This is a question that has been asked by Christians for a long time. Many will quote this verse in James:
Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. (NET Bible)
But what about the following verse?
1 Samuel 2:6-10
The Lord both kills and gives life; he brings down to the grave and raises up. The Lord impoverishes and makes wealthy; he humbles and he exalts. (NET Bible)
That verse doesn’t seem so nice to everyone. How can He “kill” and “impoverish”?
Many Christians lack the understanding of the nature of God. They are so focused on the love aspect of God’s nature that they miss that He also has righteous judgment. This is the whole idea behind the ancient iconography of the scales. It is about balance between good and evil (justice, discipline, etc. or whatever balances love), but that is another topic.
Still others will jump in here and say that the verse in 1 Samuel is the Old Testament. That was God. Jesus is all about love and forgiveness. But if Jesus isn’t God, what gives him the authority to change anything? Again, that is another topic that I will cover later.
It is true that God does not tempt anyone, but He does test us. Most of us are programmed to only read a couple of verses and many do not have the attention span to read the whole section in Scripture. This causes us to misapply, misquote, and misunderstand, and then we blame God when things don’t go as anticipated. Let us look at the surrounding verses from James.
Happy is the one who endures testing, because when he has proven to be genuine, he will receive the crown of life that God promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each one is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desires. Then when desire conceives, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is full grown, it gives birth to death. (NET Bible)
It is clear that it is talking about testing not tempting. This is a reference to Man’s nature which is made up of both good and that which opposes good, or the evil inclination within us all. The New Testament explains it to us in Romans.
So, I find the law that when I want to do good, evil is present with me. For I delight in the law of God in my inner being. But I see a different law in my members waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that is in my members. (NET Bible)
What this is saying is that our two natures are battling within us for superiority. The victor is decided by our own free will and which side we allow to triumph is completely our choice. God’s desire is for us to overcome our evil inclination with one of godliness through love and righteousness. He gives us a situation where we have the opportunity to choose between His way or our own desire.
When dealing with interpersonal relationships, His desire is for us to judge others with mercy. Always give them the benefit of the doubt, or as my mother used to say, “Put the shoe on the other foot.” That does not mean we do not apply discipline when the situation calls, but we do it from the side of love. In fact, not correcting someone in error actually comes from our evil nature, where the desire of the flesh rules supreme.
In conclusion, the Father does not tempt us, but He does test us. He does this through our own two-sided nature, which is comprised of both good and evil. In order to help us build up our good spiritual muscle He gives us the opportunity to overcome evil. The stronger that muscle gets the more it takes to overpower it and the tests become more challenging.
Although life’s burdens may get heavier even for those of faith, He gives us only what we can handle and never allows us to be completely overcome. This should bring us great comfort in knowing that God has the best intentions for those who love Him and we can totally rely on His faithfulness, but first we must understand who He really is. He cares for us so much that He will never force His will upon us.
May God grant us the eyes to see how great a love He has for each of us!