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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Knowing God


I’m going to digress from my usual format in order to address some of the comments in the last two posts.

Fouzia, a Christian Pakistani woman, regularly walks her children to worship despite a terrorist attack on a Christian hospital that killed 70 people, despite the kidnapping and rape of a fourteen-year-old Christian who dared to share her faith with her classmates and would not convert to Islam as her captors demanded.

“We all feel sad,” [she said.]

And more afraid?

“And more afraid.”

But even as she spoke, Fouzia was gathering her children to go to church.

“Maybe it will not be my enemies who will be watching,” she said. “Maybe it will be other Christians. Maybe when they see us going to worship God and to pray, in spite of what all is happening, in spite of our fears, they will be encouraged to come along and worship with us.”

And what about the danger to herself and her family?

Fouzia simply said, “We will trust God.”

(true story and excerpt from Daughters of Hope by Kay Marshall Strom and Michele Rickett)

Then there was Yuan, a Christian in China who ministered throughout the week to the women in her area. She and her husband held an underground church in their home until he was arrested and imprisoned. Days later soldiers came to Yuan’s home and trashed it. They hauled her in and confiscated everything she owned before releasing her.

A neighbor took Yuan in, and she continued to visit the women because she wanted to be bold for her Savior just as her husband was.

Again she was arrested and fined. She said she had nothing to her name—they had already taken all she owned. No, they said, she still owned the shoes she wore. They removed them and crushed her feet with their heavy boots so that she could no longer go from house to house.

She was left to crawl back to her neighbors, but her ministry did not end.

Today she sill “stands” as a faithful witness. Women and children come to her bedside to hear her tell the story of a God who loves them and who sent his own Son to suffer and die for them.

(true story and excerpt from Daughters of Hope by Kay Marshall Strom and Michele Rickett)

What’s my point? As a number of commenters described their spiritual journey, God brought to my mind the parable recorded in Luke 8. As Jesus explained it to His disciples, He said some people are like seed that falls where rocks are and the rocks keep the roots from going down deep.

The rocks are temptations—the hard stuff that makes us want to look at our circumstances just as the people of Israel did on their way out of Egypt. They didn’t have food, water, or any way to defend themselves from their pursuers. Consequently, they wanted to quit, to go back to the way things were. Their roots weren’t deep.

But here’s Yuan and Fouzia and a host of other women who live where rocks abound yet they turn to God—the God of the Bible, without all the redaction or re-imaging—to be their comfort and their support. (For a beautiful post, reasonably short, on Christ and our suffering, read Rachel Starr Thomson’s post “Painful Perfection.”)

Could it be that simple faith is what we need, as Jesus said, and not mystical “centering prayer” or Scriptural gymnastics to make the text say something beyond the plain meaning of the words?

Here’s what I think. God wants to be found. He’s “bent over backwards” to reveal Himself—through prophets, living object lessons (that’s what Isaac was and what the Old Testament sacrifices were, what Joseph was, and David), through His Son, through His written word, through His Holy Spirit living in believers, and through the Church—His hands and feet in the world today.

Satan (yes, a real adversarial being who appears as an angel of light) is determined to muddy the waters. He is a liar and the Father of lies. He started by lying to Eve, first making her question what exactly God had said and ultimately contradicting God’s clear command.

On her behalf, she wasn’t there when God told Adam not to eat of the tree in the midst of the garden. Maybe she thought she misunderstood Adam when he related God’s words. Maybe she redefined them in her mind. What was “death,” after all? Not something she knew first hand. Was there even such a thing?

Sadly, even though Eve was deceived and Adam knowingly disobeyed, she suffered the same consequences he did. They were separated from the love of their lives. From the One who made sense of the world.

Their real problem wasn’t the rocky soil they now had to till or even their he said/she said attacks they started when God confronted them. Their real problem was their loss of relationship with their Creator.

This outcome is what Satan is after. He is loath to see God glorified. In his pride, he wants God’s place. He wants the esteem and honor that belong to Jesus. What better way than to belittle God and bring Jesus down.

So he lies about God today, just as he did with Eve. God doesn’t really mean what He says. He isn’t really a righteous Judge, he’s a wrathful monster at odds with his loving son. But no worry, he’s finally come around in the twenty-first century and repents of his previous brutality. He promises he’ll never do it again, certainly not for eternity.

Satan wishes.

Suffering and God – The Refiner’s Fire


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 am confident in saying 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 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 59 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.

But 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? Well, whether Portland Mike had an actual girl in mind or not, there are many who fit the description. From Daughters of Hope by Kay Marshall Strom and Michele Rickett (InterVarsity Press):

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!”

That Sudanese woman strengthens my faith. God doesn’t hate her. And while I might think the best is for Him to rescue her out of the hands of evil men, God has a bigger, and eternal, perspective. He knows that this woman, though she may never leave that refugee camp, can impact thousands because of her faith. I, for one, can hardly wait to see the rewards stacking up for her in heaven. 😉

Published in: on November 13, 2008 at 12:23 pm  Comments (2)  
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