“I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lordyou are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.
2 But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. 3 He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, 4 and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years. -Malachi 3:1-4
"During our lives we experience intense trials that we can use to refine our spirits. The key idea to remember is that we pass 'through' and do not remain in the fire.
There is a noteworthy difference between the fire that refines and one that extinguishes or consumes" (Okoro, p.65).
Have you ever prayed that God wasn't so keen on the refining process? I wonder if Mary or John or even Jesus had moments where they said: "No way, man! Take it back! Take it ALL back!"? Certainly Jesus' words in the Garden point towards a desparation for another path to be found. It's hard to believe us less perfect people wouldn't have similar grief.
I suppose it was different with Jesus. It's not like he had to be refined in the sense that we're talking about refining. Okoro here is saying that God uses trials to melt away dross; make us spit-spot shiny; to remove that which dehumanizes us, and leave only that which the Creator intends us to be.
I wish it wasn't so fiery.
It took a long time to let go of the literal fire and brimstone, hell and damnation theologies that had me seeing things by the time I was 13 or so. Some kids slept with teddy bears or special blankets. I slept with my Bible. I had night terrors of the horrors of hell. And I was never good enough to squeak into heaven. Somehow I always saw myself being burned alive forever.
So when God speaks honourably and well of the fire of refinement, I'm understandably a little afraid (above and beyond the natural fear any one of us would have over being sent through trials). My past collides with my present, and I worry then about how the future will play out. For better or worse, fire has played a colossal role in my life and spiritual formation.
Okay… stepping away from the burning lake of fire. Let's stay more on point with where Okoro is going with this.
She is sure to insist that we cannot remain in the fire. It's used in a process to help shape who we are; it's not a destination or a realm in which to live. I wonder how many of us lived in self-imposed refineries when God is already on the outside, waiting with cool water?
And why is it some people seem to be given a LOT of refinement, whereas others appear to only need very little? Maybe we don't have such a good grasp of what the refining process really is. Maybe a trial I would consider as some severe refining would not really be such a trial for another person? Maybe timing has far too much to do with the process that I can't even begin to scribble out how deep that rabbit hole goes. Lots of maybes…
The plain truth is: it hurts. And we don't like to be hurt.
It's not simply survival or self-pity or defense mechanisms that block our desire for refining. It's the reality that our loved ones hurt us badly… we lose relationships… we lose jobs… we are given tasks to do that we never wanted to begin with… food and water dry up… medicine is too expensive. These are all things that send us sideways and, while certainly used (somehow) in the refining process, wound us deeply.
No one ever said that we would come through this process unscathed or unscarred. The whole point of it is transformation, after all. But to lose so much when we love so much… Jesus knew this agony more deeply than anyone else.
The whole 'God won't give you more than you can handle' is a joke. I think more people are beginning to see through that dangerous theology. Of course it's more than I can handle! I'm in a freakin' fire, for God's sake!
So while this fire is not our destination (even though sometimes we make it so), it's pain and burning away of what and who we hold dear truly does help us die to ourselves.
I'm not sure I'm up for that, Henri. Were you? Ever?
Do we have a choice?
Until tomorrow, Henri,