Refined like Gold (Job 23).
It turns out that people are like plants. Apparently like precious metals too. In fact, it seems that horticulture and metallurgy can inform some pretty deep theology. There are two metaphors in the Bible that reveal profound things about the human nature, and one of them is in Job 23.
In the midst of telling us how he is pursuing God, determined to plead his case and get justice, Job says this:
“But He [God] knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.” (Job 23:10)
There’s a lot packed in here. God certainly does know the way we take. He has searched us and know us. He knows when we stay and when we go. He perceives our thoughts from afar. He is, in fact, ‘familiar with all my ways’ (Psalm 139:1-3). More than this, God knows what He’s doing. And despite sometimes seeming to insinuate the opposite, Job seems to acknowledge that here. He also begins to grasp that God is testing him. Testing him to see if he will curse God, as Satan predicted. Stripped of his health, wealth and family, will Job denounce God or will he stay faithful to Him? That’s the test. Come good times or bad, we’re called to worship and obey God, because He is holy, sovereign and supreme. The suffering of a fallen, broken world doesn’t change the fact that God is worthy of our worship. And it is the mission of Satan to persuade us otherwise. Job was one of his early targets. This was a test, and some test at that.
It’s a test we all face. Some suffer worse than Job, some perhaps get off more lightly. Spare a thought right now for those in the world today whose suffering would prompt sympathy even from Job. But even for those of us who are doing ok, for whom life is mostly good, life is one long test. It’s full of setbacks and problems, heartache and worry, conflicting messages and unanswered questions. All those symptoms of sin, those manifestations of a broken world. Any number of those things could make us doubt or question God, curse Him even, deliberately turn our back on Him. Satan wants that no less than he wanted Job to fail. Make no mistake, you’re being tested.
And yet, if we do what Job did, and look to God, we can be confident of a good outcome eventually. When the testing is done the prize comes. For those who pass the test, they ‘come forth as gold’. They are vindicated. They end up better than before. Now don’t get me wrong, we can’t pass on our own. We don’t just need help, we’re 100% dependent on Jesus to pass the test and receive (not earn) God’s salvation. But, notwithstanding that, there’s gold at the end of the race, and not just for the winner. For every finisher.
What did Job mean with his talk of gold? That’s where the metallurgy comes in. Gold doesn’t just occur in its gleaming finished product, it has to be smelted and it has to be refined. It comes from an ore complete with many impurities. That, right there, is a picture of us. We have tremendous value – we’re made in God’s image – but with the impurities that stem from free will– we’re also caked in unwanted things. Selfishness. Greed. Pride. Lust. Violence. Envy. The list goes on. Those impurities have to be removed. For gold, that’s done by melting it down to remove the unwanted stuff and leave only the gold. Not the most technical description, I’ll grant you, but that’s the essence of it. It involves a lot of heat, and, for us, pain. When sin is as firmly part of us as dross is of unrefined gold, its removal is uncomfortable, like the ripping off of a plaster that takes skin and hair with it.
But what’s left is purer, more beautiful and more valuable than before. God takes us, if we let Him, through a lifelong process of sanctification. Big posh word that. Means becoming better people. Purer, more like Jesus. Every time He works on us, to correct our thinking, to teach us a lesson, to deal with a particular ingrained sin or bad habit, we become that bit more like Him. We become refined.
Jesus has paid for our sins, but the reality is that the sin is still part of our lives. The punishment has been lifted, but the presence of it remains. Only once we’ve been sanctified in our walk with God, and, ultimately, taken to eternal life after Jesus comes again, will we be perfect. Perfect as in the purest gold, no more refinement needed thank you.
God was taking Job through that process, even though Job was only dimly aware of it. He was teaching him and working on him. At the book’s end, Job was not only materially and physically better off than he had been before but spiritually too. He was closer to God and knew Him better. Job’s confidence of coming forth as gold was well-founded. We too, when we put our trust in God, will be vindicated.
I mentioned horticulture as well. That’s the other metaphor: the pruning of a plant to leave it healthier and better able to bear fruit than before. Jesus describes it in John 15 when calling Himself the vine and us the branches. It too is a painful process but it too is part of God’s plan for our lives: to shape us in His image, to perfect His creation and to bring glory to Himself through us. I’ve run out of time to do justice to that second metaphor, and someday I’ll write a dedicated blog-post just on that.
But for now I’ll finish by saying that you’ll experience one of these processes (probably both) sooner or later in your walk with God. You can expect to be pruned, and you will be refined. Ask God about it. Is He at work through that pain you’re experiencing right now? Why has this thing been taken away or that door shut in your face? Not all questions can be answered at the time, but with hindsight it’s possible to see that God was using it to shape us, for His glory and our good. Could we make it a little more bearable for ourselves if we were able to discern it whilst it was going on? Maybe. The key is talking to God, seeking His will, finding out what He’s up to. We can be active participants in the process. And we should relish it. The reward is pure gold: a crown of life (James 1:12; Revelation 2:10).