Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Into the Crucible

“The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.”

If for some reason you needed to melt gold at home, you could actually do it with an acetylene torch, assuming you have the right sort of container to melt gold in. Gold becomes liquid at around 1,943°F (1,064°C). Once you’ve tried melting gold, silver is comparatively easy, melting between 1,640 and 1,762°F (893-961°C).

The process by which precious metals are refined and purified is intense. Going from solid to liquid can’t be much fun either. If we are to learn anything from the first two clauses of this verse, it is that our Father does not bring us to the place of crisis trivially, nor does he do it in order to leave us as he found us.

What We Say

Sometimes God tests us to see what we will say about him.

Job understood that he was being tried, and hoped to “come out as gold”. James says it was Job’s steadfastness in public testimony that was tested. He refused to “curse God and die”, as his wife advised him. God confirms that in all Job’s intellectual and emotional struggles, he did not sin with his lips the way his comforters did. He says to Eliphaz, “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

What We Think

Other times, God tests what we think about him.

David expressed his willingness to be tested right down to the level of his innermost secrets: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” He wanted every possible wicked impulse exposed and rooted out in order that he might follow after his God more faithfully. That process is not painless, and David was put to the test repeatedly.

What We Do

Still other times, we are tested to see what we will do.

Abraham was commanded to offer up his son. Despite what must have been unbelievable inner turmoil, the patriarch saddled his donkey and rode to Moriah, climbed the mountain with his beloved son by his side and laid him on the altar. The test was not complete until the knife was right there in his hand. James says Abraham’s faith was “completed by his works”.

The Value in the Transformation

The Lord tests hearts. It may be with respect to our loyalty, trust, hope, truthfulness, patience, humility … there are many possibilities. Few of these tests are true-and-false quickie quizzes: more often they are grueling three-hour exams with multiple essay questions. But there is no point in putting gold into the fire at 600° to soften it, and then taking it out before it is fully purified or reshaped. There is no value in heat for heat’s sake: the value is in the transformation that occurs as a result. The gold itself doesn’t change its essential nature, but everything that is not gold is burned away.

Peter says this happens so that the “tested genuineness of your faith — more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire — may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.”

The Good Confession

I often wonder what I would do if subjected to intense persecution. I hope I would continue to put my faith in my heavenly Father and “make the good confession”, as they say. I hope. But I cannot say with certainty. It’s only hypothetical, at least for today.

Having offered his son, Abraham unquestionably walked away a new man. What more could ever be asked of him, at least in that area? He had been taken to the outer limits of reason and trust, and had remained faithful. God, who already knew Abraham’s heart, was unsurprised.

Abraham may have been quite shocked.

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