Suffering And God: The Refiner’s Fire

He is a refiner’s fire, and that makes all the difference. A refiner’s fire does not destroy indiscriminately like a forest fire. A refiner’s fire does not consume completely like the fire of an incinerator. A refiner’s fire refines. It purifies. It melts down the bar of silver or gold, separates out the impurities that ruin its value, burns them up, and leaves the silver and gold intact. He is like a refiner’s fire. (excerpt from Desiring God, “He Is Like a Refiner’s Fire” by John Piper)

One of the reasons I loved coaching so much was because I understand team sports as a microcosm of life. Teamwork, conflict, response to authority, hard work, patience—these are just some of the areas that confront athletes. Another is keeping the big picture in mind—winning isn’t everything; in fact, the game isn’t everything.

Then there is the key ingredient—a successful team suffers. Of course, we coaches don’t call it suffering—we call it training or conditioning. But the truth is, we put players through workouts we know will leave them weak and exhausted and hurting. Why? Because I hated my players? Hardly. The more potential I saw, the more I required of them. I pushed so they would be ready to face the opposition and overcome, but also so they would learn discipline and the necessity of preparation—in other words, things they could take with them long after they stopped playing team sports.

If I had hated my players, in fact, I would have pretty much ignored them. I saw a coach who treated his kids that way once. He would bring a lounge chair along to whatever game he was coaching, plop down, and pretty much let the kids do whatever they wanted to do. Like recess, some kids might think, How cool. But come game time, when that team was getting their clocks cleaned in a big way, none of those kids was having such a good time. I don’t know any of them, so can’t be sure, but I have to believe their experience in team sports at that level didn’t contribute in a positive way to their building traits they would need in life.

The point is clear. Just as coaches put their players through training, at times God takes His children through suffering. He wants to form us into the image of His Son. It’s one purpose of suffering, though certainly not the only one.

Someone with a different worldview that doesn’t account for eternal life may think God is cruel. Look at Joni Eareckson Tada—confined to a wheelchair since the age of 17 (she’s in her late 60’s now). How could she not become bitter and resentful toward God? I can only answer from what I’ve heard and read her saying, and one component is that she is looking forward to unending health once this life is over. Another is that her relationship with Jesus has become so sweet, she says she would never trade it for the use of her arms and legs.

My, what an impact that woman has had on thousands, maybe millions, not in spite of her disability but because of it. She is a living and breathing example of what the Apostle Paul said: “Power is perfected in weakness.”

He went on to add, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 10)

Easy for me to say, sitting comfortably in the land of the free and home of the brave, but what about that hypothetical girl in Sudan that I referenced in an earlier post? There are many people who have actually lived through the kind of abuse in the description. From Daughters of Hope by Kay Marshall Strom and Michele Rickett (InterVarsity Press)—a book composed of real life stories of women around the world:

The villagers said that government forces were capturing women and asking them whether they were Christian or Muslim. If the … response was “Christian,” the women were raped, mutilated, and left to die where others could see them as a warning.

“This woman was supposed to be an example to others who would dare to remain Christians,” Dr. Lidu said. “But I wish they could have heard her as she was recovering. She spent her time praising the name of Jesus!”

These women strengthen my faith. God doesn’t hate them. And while I might think the best is for Him to rescue those who are suffering out of the hands of evil men, God has a bigger, eternal, perspective. He knows that these women, though they may never leave that refugee camp or be free from the abuse, can impact thousands because of their faith. I, for one, can hardly wait to see the rewards stacking up for them in heaven.

This article is a revised version of one that first appeared here in November, 2008.

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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Yes, our God is a consuming fire of love, holiness and righteousness. The awesome thing is that He sits as a refiner. He is a good God, having the ability to consume absolutely everything, not destroying, but purifies. The fear, hatred and resentment is being destroyed, leaving love, peace, joy, and respect. Suffering is part of life, but it can also be part of sa

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Suffering is part of life, but it can also be part of your sanctification…

    Liked by 1 person


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