Summary: Why does God permit pain and suffering? One reason is to help shape us to be more like Christ.
First Presbyterian Church, Corpus Christi, TX
Rev. Charles S. Blackshear • April 29, 2012
Have you ever had one of those days when it seems that nothing is going your way? From the time you get up in the morning it’s as if the whole world is against you. There’s no soap in the shower, you burn your toast at breakfast, on the way to work whatever lane you get in slows down, the computer is giving you trouble, and everybody is in a bad mood.
Maybe it’s more than just a bad day. Maybe you’re facing real challenges – the loss of your job, financial difficulties, a prolonged illness, a divorce, or the sudden death of a loved one. These are all painful experiences, whether it’s physical pain or emotional pain. When we face these kinds of difficulties we want to cry out, “why me, Lord? What have I done to deserve this?” We call this kind of suffering “affliction.” We feel like it is something that is being done to us.
When we’re going through these difficulties in life we can often be tempted to view them in one of two ways. First, we often feel like we don’t deserve to be suffering. We want to know why God doesn’t “fix it.” This question has haunted many people through the years and many people lose their faith because they can’t understand why a good God would allow so much suffering.
On the other hand, sometimes when we are facing difficulties we begin to think that God is punishing us for something. We convince ourselves that we do deserve to suffer because of things we’ve done in our past. We aren’t sure that God is able or willing to forgive us. One day Jesus passed a man who had been born blind. His disciples wanted to know who had sinned for the man to be born blind, whether it was him or his parents. They assumed that God was punishing the man for something. But Jesus sets them straight. He says, “he wasn’t born blind because someone sinned. He is blind so that God can do something great in him.”
In the same way our Scripture readings this morning help us understand what the Bible tells us about our suffering and affliction. Verse 10 says, “I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tried you in the furnace of affliction.” The prophet Malachi says the same thing. He says that the LORD is like a refiner’s fire. “He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver.”
What we find is that our afflictions, our difficulties in life, are part of our process of being purified to be like Christ. The analogy that the Bible uses in several places is that of refining metal so I did a little research on it. Up until the 13th century, only seven metals were known to humans: gold, silver, copper, lead, tin, iron and mercury. Silver is the oldest known metal, having been discovered some time around 6000 BC. The ancient people discovered that it was shiny and nice to look at but also that it was soft and malleable, making it primarily useful for decoration. It would be another 3000 years before gold was discovered and it was also used primarily for jewelry and ornamentation.
Lead was probably the first metal that ancient people discovered could be purified with fire but it wasn’t long before they discovered that with enough heat they could melt the other metals also, including gold and silver. You see, gold and silver rarely occur in a pure form in nature. They contain other metals or various impurities that need to be removed to get to a purer form that is more valuable. The gold or silver is not nearly as valuable with the impurities, which is called “dross.”
Historically, especially in ancient times, the way to remove the dross was to crush the raw ore and then heat it to the melting point of the metal. This requires a really hot fire. Silver melts at around 1800 degrees Fahrenheit and gold at almost 2000 degrees. At those temperatures the impurities, the dross, either burns up or floats to the surface to be removed. One of the techniques for separating silver from lead was to use a series of pots all heated up to high temperature. The lead that floated to the surface was skimmed off and moved to the next pot on the left while the silver was moved to the pot on the right so that the silver in the far pot was quite pure. This is probably the technique Psalm 12 is referring to when it says in verse 6, “The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.”