Refined by Fire

In May of 2014, the doors to the famous cathedral of Notre Dame swung open, and I beheld its breathtaking beauty for the first time.

On April 15, 2019, I tuned into FOX News to see thousands of Parisians watch in jaw-dropped horror as the blaze engulfed this historic landmark beloved by France and all who beheld it. The flames roared in a desperate attempt to stifle the sounds of a weeping Paris. Notre Dame burned, and the world watched with an aching heart.

As human beings, we instinctively seek answers to the “why’s.” Why did the fire start in the first place? Why did the cathedral burn so quickly? Why did the fire department take so long to respond? All are valid questions worth asking and investigating.

But one “why” cannot be answered so definitively, even after reporters have covered the story on the evening news.

Why would God allow this to happen?

Horrific events ranging from natural disasters such as the Notre Dame fire to terrorist attacks like the destruction of the World Trade Center cause us to demand answers to one fundamental question–“Why would a good God allow such evil things to happen in the world?”

In complete honesty, I don’t know. I cannot presume to know why an infinitely wise, sovereign, and omnipotent God acts in the ways He chooses. But I do know that He does not leave us in this world full of suffering without any hope that our pain is temporary and our adversities are meaningful. Thankfully, Scripture contains many truths that help us deal with our inevitable pain.

God is not the author of evil.

The Bible assures us that God does not use evil to tempt us (James 1:13) nor is He the source of “confusion” (1 Corinthians 14:33). Additionally, God calls His created world in Genesis 1:31 “very good.” He did not create evil, but rather evil resulted from man’s choice.

At the beginning of Genesis, the Garden of Eden was, as of yet, untainted by sin. Adam and Eve lived in perfect communion with their Creator, but this unhindered fellowship did not last long. They chose to disobey God’s one command, and sin entered the world making death and suffering the new normal for humankind (Romans 5:12).

Some skeptics say that God indirectly authored evil by allowing us to have free choice. “He could have ensured that sin would never have entered the world by creating people without the ability to sin,” they say. True, He could have crafted human beings who obeyed out of thoughtless compulsion rather than a willing heart of surrender, but He wanted more than robotic obedience. Our Lord wanted a family of children who craved a loving relationship with their Heavenly Father.

He didn’t want us to use our gift to choose sin. He wanted us to choose Him.

Our suffering is a direct result of our poor decision.

The pain of a Christian is temporary.

So here we are–stuck in a messed up world living messed up lives alongside other messed up people, yet we are not without hope.

Romans 8:18 mends our broken hearts when we read, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.” As Christians, we have hope of a future in heaven’s glory where there is no more grief. The Comforter will wipe every tear from our eye (Revelation 21:4), and we will never again experience any kind of adversity. How’s that for hope!

We do not toil in vain.

A verse that I hear quoted often from believers who are going through trials is Romans 8:28. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” The truth found in this verse encourages Christians by reassuring us that our trials have a purpose.

Our purposes usually differ from the Lord’s, though. For example, what we consider to be the “good” promised in Romans 8:28 is our happiness, but God has a different definition. Let’s look at 1 Peter 1:6-7.

“In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 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 Christ.”

Peter uses the illustration of refining gold with fire. I have researched this process extensively (i.e. googled it and read the first article that popped up). My sources say that the unrefined gold sample is heated up to a temperature between 1000-1200 degrees Celsius. The desired gold melts and separates from the impurities and can now be used to make a variety of items ranging from wedding rings to ice cream (true story).

But that gold first needed the fire, and so do we. The Lord uses pain to teach us that, by ourselves, we are weak and that we must rely on Him. When we trust in Him, our faith is tested, strengthened, and refined. James 1:2-4 reminds us that we can have joy in trials because “testing of your faith produces steadfastness.” The verse also says we will be “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

The Divine Goldsmith is using fiery trials to melt away our impurities–doubts, flaws, sinful tendencies–and make us radiate with His holiness. We can have joy in trials because we know God is shaping us into the people He desires us to be. When He is finished, we will be beautiful works of art crafted by His skillful hands.

When we prioritize His purposes for suffering over ours, we question God less and trust Him more.

You might have seen the pictures of the golden cross still standing at the altar amidst the ashes of the Notre Dame cathedral. When I look at that picture, I see myself walking through the flames of adversity and, by God’s grace, emerging on the other side refined by trials, refined by fire.

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