“Behold, I go forward, but he is not there,
and backward, but I do not perceive him;
on the left hand when he is working, I do not behold him;
he turns to the right hand, but I do not see him.
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tried me, I shall come out as gold.”
God ordains trials to enter our lives in order to test the reality of our faith in a way that is similar to the process of purifying precious metals. Gold, for example, is purified through various means, including high temperature heating or chemical exposure. One such method is called the Miller process, which “uses gaseous chlorine to extract impurities when gold is at melting point; impurities separate into a layer on the surface of the molten purified gold.” Those impurities are then skimmed off the surface, leaving gold that is purer and more valuable. If perishable gold is valuable enough for man to go through painstaking processes to refine it, what must God be willing to do to ensure that our imperishable faith becomes even more precious?
According to Scripture, God sometimes turns up the thermostat of our life. He heats up the smelting furnace of affliction, in order to reveal the imperfections already present in our hearts, so that they can be skimmed off. He does not do this to discourage or defeat us, but to prove the reality of our faith, which ultimately brings glory to God. We are “grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of [our] 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” (1 Pet. 1:6-7). Commenting on these verses, Greek scholar, Kenneth Wuest, provides a beautiful illustration of God’s refining fire.
The illustration is that of the ancient goldsmith who refines the crude gold ore in his crucible. The pure metal is mixed with much foreign material from which it must be separated. The only way to bring about this separation is to reduce the ore to liquid form. The impurities rise to the surface and are then skimmed off. But intense heat is needed to liquefy this ore. So the goldsmith puts his crucible in the fire, reduces the ore to a liquid state and skims off the impurities. When he can see the reflection of his face clearly mirrored in the surface of the liquid, he knows that the contents are pure gold. The smelting process has done its work.
Christian suffering, whether it be in the form of persecution because of a Christlike life, or whether it comes to us in the form of the trials and testings which are the natural accompaniment of a Christlike life, such as illness, sorrow, or financial losses, is always used by a God of love to refine our lives. It burns out the dross, makes for humility, purifies and increases our faith, and enriches our lives. And like the goldsmith of old, God keeps us in the smelting furnace until He can see the reflection of the face of the Lord Jesus in our lives. God is not so much interested in how much work we do for Him, as He is in how much we resemble His Son.
God’s big, long-term goal for each and every believer is “to be conformed to the image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29). When we allow fiery trials to thrust us upon the mercy of the Lord, and motivate us to put off sin, put on the new self, and experience the certainty of “being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (Col 3:10). As we make sometimes-slow, gradual progress toward spiritual maturity, we become more like Christ. This is the usefulness of the spiritual smelting process of suffering.
Job, an Old Testament hero of the faith, understood this picture. The furnace of Job’s affliction was turned up very, very hot when Satan was permitted to attack Job’s family, health, financial security, character, and reputation (Job 1-2). Satan meant all of his targeted attacks for evil, but God meant it for good. In fact, it was God who first said to the devil, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” (Job 1:8). On the other side of his family tragedy and loss of worldly fortune, Job was able to testify of God’s faithfulness: “when he has tried me, I shall come out [of the smelting pot] as gold” (Job 23:10). This is a statement of Job’s faith, even though he could not see the specific ways of God during his trial, and he felt alone, abandoned: “I go forward, but he is not there, and backward, but I do not perceive him.” Nonetheless, in the end, Job’s faith was proven. When his particular season of suffering was over, Job could pray to God, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5). A renewed awareness and deeper knowledge of God had been attained.
The teaching of Scripture is clear. In order to produce a godly, mature Christian, God increases the temperature of life, in order to turn our hearts more devotedly toward him. He melts our faith in order to bring to the surface remaining sin and unbelief that’s already in our hearts, but which we may be blinded from seeing, or too stubborn to address. By doing so, the Holy Spirit matures our faith, making it more precious than any earthly treasure. Just as the refining process is used to remove impurities, in order to bring out the beauty of gold, so trials are used by God to refine and bring out the beauty of our faith. Looking into the heart that is devoted to Jesus, while it is being refined, the Father sees the image of his Son progressively revealed. The end result is the glory of God.
You may want to take time to read the first two chapters of the book of Job. Then meditate on Job’s worshipful response in Job 2:21. Pray this verse back to God in your own words, according to the particular difficulties of your current trial.
 “Processing, Smelting, and Refining God,” https://www.gold.org/about-gold/gold-supply/gold-refining, accessed November 9, 2020.
 Kenneth S. Wuest, “Bypaths” in Wuest’s Word Studies – Volume III (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973, orig. 1940), 73-74.