Death was not long in coming. Mark Wolford died on Sunday afternoon, just hours after being bitten by a rattlesnake. The West Virginia preacher was part of a small sect of Pentecostal Christians that handle snakes to prove their faith. In spite of feeble biblical support and numerous fatalities, the practice continues to be passed down from generation to generation. As a 15-year-old boy, Wolford saw his own father die from a snakebite. These are hard bought lessons that are not being learned.
Depending on our temperament, our first response varies from compassion to outrage. But we can all agree that this kind of foolishness is killing people and making a mockery of our faith. There is nothing to be gained by toying with venomous snakes. It’s just stupid. There may, however, be some gain in considering Wolford’s motives.
Wolford believed that he was testing and proving his faith. And while I see little-to-no likeness in our ministry methodology, I too want to prove my faith. The damning twins of comfort and apathy constantly threaten my faith life. I know, all too well, the need for something to shake me from my daze and spur me on. But, ‘it’ should not have fangs!
While we certainly need to exert ourselves in doing good, the bible seems to place the proof test in the hands of another. Our faith is proven and tested by God himself. It is he that is finishing the work he has begun in us. Fortunately, this means that we won’t get bit. Unfortunately, it does mean that we will get hurt. The apostle Peter tells us that life’s many sufferings are designed to test, prove, and perfect our faith.
“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6–7)
Sunday may have been a bad day for you. The days before and since then may not have been any better. It could be that this is a hard season for you and the promised silver lining remains absent, things are just not looking up. Do not despair! God’s testing is often severe, but it’s never fatal. On the contrary, it is his pruning that makes new life possible.
Enduring through tough times is not fun. Brokenness is not fun. But before you try to escape into some diversion, think it through. Maybe this testing is for your good? Perhaps your faith is being refined? I believe that these troubles are severe gifts from God that are certain to sanctify us. They can be heavy on the heart, but their effectiveness is certain—they are fool proof.