Consequently, one theme that ran through many questions from Sunday was this: How do I know if it’s persecution, or simply a trial? For instance, some were wondering things like “does a failed marriage in my past count as persecution, or is that just a trial?” Or still others things like, “What about a wayward son or daughter who, since they reject God, makes life extremely difficult for us – is that persecution or a trial?”
In an effort to walk with people through some of these things, let me offer some insight.
First, let me say that I don’t necessarily think ‘persecution’ and the ‘testing of our faith’ are the same thing, but I do think persecution falls under the category of things that test our faith. Make sense? So one could say persecution yields the same result, but it isn’t exactly the same thing, as the testing of our faith.
For example, let’s take the case of the failed marriage. If it was due to one spouse’s faith, (i.e., the other spouse leaving because they no longer wanted to be married to a Christian), then yes, I’d say that is a degree of persecution. It is also a trial. And you can count on this — God will mature you through that (James 1).
However, if the marriage exploded due to reasons other than one of the spouse’s faith in and stance on the Gospel, it would not necessarily qualify as persecution, but no doubt this would be a trial. Yet, God has a counter-intuitive manner of bringing good out of bad for those that love him so that we are more like his Son in character and conduct (Romans 8:28-29); so even though it isn’t persecution technically, it produces the same end result: maturity and completeness. (You can apply the same filter to the wayward child scenario.)
Here’s one way to understand it — all persecutions are trials, but not all trials are persecutions. The difference? The Y factor! What’s the reason you’re in the situation? If it is an unrighteous response to your faith (1 Peter 2:20-21), it is in the category of persecution. Otherwise, it simply falls under the area of trials.