Saturday, March 7, 2015

Room 314: In the Furnace of Affliction

God uses the unique sufferings in our lives to remove those specific impediments in our lives that keep us from more fully treasuring Christ. My recent experience of 22 days in the hospital opened my eyes to my impatience and idolatry. In retrospect, I am trusting that it was only through this type of suffering that God could have taught me how my heart had strayed and the need for my repentance. About suffering, Paul says, "...we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." Romans 5:3-5. In a recent sermon, Pastor Tim Keller explains that Christians are not called to enjoy suffering in itself, but to appreciate the fruit that comes from the suffering. We should not, like the Greek Stoics, attempt to "stuff" grief or think that God calls us to become more like him by "toughing it out," pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps through suffering, and attempting to succeed in life despite our suffering. Rather, we can respond in great grief, but trust that God has ordained it for our God. For this point, Keller points to the emotional reaction of Job after learning of the death of his entire family. Job tears his rob off, shaves his head, and falls to the ground, an emotional reaction that Keller points out many in the church today might find irreligious. But Job 1:22 says that, in all this, Job did not sin. We can hate the suffering itself, and respond in emotion to the suffering, but appreciate the fact that God is using that suffering for our good. Keller points out that, while one's home furnace is obviously not powered by the cold temperatures outside, the furnace will only pick up in intensity to the degree that the thermostat shows a decrease in the outside temperature. In this sense, the furnace is "powered" by the outside temperatures, because the house relies more and more on the furnace for its warmth through colder and colder temperatures. Our sufferings do not in themselves power change in our lives, but they produce the environment in our heart by which God works. In scripture we are told repeatedly that God, going back even in His relationship with the nation of Israel, uses sufferings to "refine" us, as with metals in a furnace. Isaiah 48:10 says that God used the furnace of affliction on Israel for His Glory. While I don't need to like the suffering itself, I pray that I would recognize that God is using the unique forms of suffering in my own life to "burn off" all sorts of impurities that currently exist in my life, and make me more like Him, for His Glory.

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