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It's pretty clear that we shouldn't put God to the test.

Luke 4:12 NIV

Jesus answered, “It is said: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ”

Or is it?

Isaiah 7:10-12

10 Again the LORD spoke to Ahaz, 11 “Ask the LORD your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths or in the highest heights.”

12 But Ahaz said, “I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.”

God clearly wanted Ahaz to ask him for the answer, but Ahaz assumed that this was a test. We know from other faithful people in the Bible that they all went to God and asked God for answers to their questions.

Where should we not test God and when/where is it ok to test Him?

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I can see 1 John 4:1 playing into this: "...test the spirits to see whether they are from God..." –  Richard Sep 6 '11 at 16:37
    
I could see testing the spirits from God as a test against God himself as well. –  Jonathon Byrd Sep 6 '11 at 20:08
    
Just to be clear, are you asking where we actually draw the line in practice, or where we ought to draw it based on Christian teachings etc? –  hippietrail Sep 6 '11 at 20:12
    
Related question that sticks to defining 'testing': What does it mean to test God? –  Caleb Oct 10 '11 at 9:14
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3 Answers 3

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The commandment against putting God to the test comes from Deuteronomy 6:16, as part of a series of instructions relating to loyalty to the one true God:

Do not put the Lord your God to the test as you tested him at Massah.

The reference to Massah is from the events of Exodus 17:1-7, also recounted in Numbers 20:1-13. This is the story where the Israelites have come out of Egypt, have been wandering in the desert, and are getting fed up with the harsh conditions and lack of water - they have lost their trust in God's promise. Moses, at God's command, strikes the rock with his staff to let out a stream of water. Exodus 7:7 explains: "He gave the place the names Massah and Meribah because of the Israelites' contentiousness and because they put the Lord to the test by saying, 'Is the Lord with us or not?'". 'Massah' means 'trial' and 'Meribah' means 'contention'.

The account in Numbers is a little more colourful.

There was no water for the community, so they banded together against Moses and Aaron. The people laid the blame on Moses. "We would rather have died," they said, "as our brothers died before the Lord! Why have you brought the Lord's community into this desert, for us and our livestock to die here? Why did you lead us out of Egypt, only to bring us to this wretched place? It is a place unfit sowing, it has no figs, no pomegranates, and there is not even water to drink!" (Nb 20:2-5)

The Lord then said to Moses and Aaron, "Because you did not believe that I could assert my holiness before the Israelites' eyes, you will not lead this assembly into the country which I am giving them." These were the Waters of Meribah, where the Israelites laid the blame on the Lord and where, by their means, he asserted his holiness. (Nb 20:12-13)

This context shows that 'putting God to the test' is strongly connected to one of the major themes of the exodus - that despite God's continual promises, people are still doubtful, resentful, unsatisfied, and disobedient. We demand more and more evidence of God's love for us (sweetening the foul water, raining manna, making water spring from the rock, ...) rather than accepting and returning it. This is what is going on in the passage from Luke - the devil is suggesting that God's unconditional love is a resource to be exploited.

The statement of Ahaz in Isaiah 7:12 should be seen in the context of his reign, which is described in 2 Kings 16.

[Ahaz] did not do what the Lord his God regards as right, as his ancestor David had done. He followed the example of the kings of Israel, even causing his son to pass through the fire of sacrifice, also copying the disgusting practices of the nations whom the Lord had dispossessed for the Israelites. (2 Kings 16:2-3)

Ahaz was no true follower of God. As a king, besieged by Razon and Pekah (2 Kings 16:5 and Isaiah 7:1), his response was to offer his kingdom as a vassal state to Assyria. He sent treasures from the Temple to Assyria's king (2 Kings 16:8), and made other changes to the Temple structure (16:17-18).

The New Jerusalem Bible has this to say in a footnote to Isaiah 7:7-9 :

For the prophets, faith is not so much a theoretical belief in the existence and uniqueness of God as an attitude of confidence based on God's choice of Israel: he has chosen Israel, he is Israel's God, he alone has the power to save his people. This unconditional trust, a guarantee of salvation, excludes all reliance not only on human beings but still more on false gods.

So when Ahaz says, "I will not put God to the test," he is showing a lack of faith in God. He would rather trust in the mighty Assyrian empire, or in foreign gods, than accept the sign that God has just promised to give him. God demonstrates his patient love yet again by giving the sign anyway - a young woman (or virgin) is "with child and will give birth to a son whom she will call Immanuel" (Isaiah 7:14).

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Testing God is trying carry out experiments. "How will God react to this stimulus?" That's forbidden.

Questioning God is when you want an answer. That's allowed.

The difference? The first is not based on faith, trust or relationship; the second is. It's like, you can ask your spouse, "Where were you last night?" because you don't trust them, or because you are genuinely interested in them.

Two exceptions to this rule:

  1. In the example you give, if God says, "Test Me", you can; even must.
  2. In Malachi 3:10, God says that He can be tested on His faithfulness to those who bring Him the full tithe.
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When fastening in the desert, the devil asks Jesus, according to the bible, to commit a miracle, but Jesus says, that you shall not test God. (Mt 4,1-11²).

On the other hand, when Thomas does not believe in him, he shows his wounds to him, with the sound of a mild dispraise, but Thomas isn't banned or send to hell or excluded from his community. (Joh, 20²). And his skepticism might look like his fault, but the other follower where present, when Jesus appeared before, so they didn't show more faith.

A small problem with this rule, to not test god, is, that every prayer, where you ask god for something - health, food, freedom, luck for your relatives and support for your friends in trouble, all this can be seen as an implicit test. If you believe that God helped to heal a disease, you implicitly believe, that God has proven his existence that way. It is a fine line to balance on.

²) I guess you prefer to read the part in your own translation, and have a link ready, so I don't search for an English link.

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This doesn't actually answer the question about limits, it gives 2 examples of testing God, but isn't actually an answer to the question posed. –  wax eagle Sep 6 '11 at 19:24
    
Well, the answer is, that Jesus in Mt 4 says: "You shall not!", and it sounds pretty bindingly. –  user unknown Sep 6 '11 at 19:34
    
Then you went on to cite an example you claim is the opposite. So which is it? Where is the line? That was the question. Please don't post to ridicule, post if you have something constructive to further the question. –  Caleb Sep 6 '11 at 19:50
    
What do you find ridicule? The question about asking God for help on earth? In the physical world? Well - I think it is a serious problem, maybe you don't. Let me explain how I approached to the question: In former times, people prayed for healing. Maybe you can agree with that. And in former times, people discussed, why sometimes God seems to help and sometimes not. I think there are plenty of discussions about this topic. One answer was, that if he doesn't help, it is a punishment for a sin, another explanation is, that he is testing his brave followers. ... –  user unknown Sep 6 '11 at 22:34
    
... While there is no final decision, everybody would agree on, science evolved, and today tests are performed with statistics. Now in the sceptics forum was a question, whether prayers for healing have been proven to work, and with the methods of statistics, it might be possible to show, that there has been no statistical significant effect. But maybe the form of testing can be defeated with the argument, that this test is an attempt to prove the existence of God, and the opposite of faith. I don't say that I take this position, but that the possibility exists to take it. ... –  user unknown Sep 6 '11 at 22:39
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