July 27, 2013

Pulverized to Perfection: Purification Through Punishment

I want to deal with a single thought in this post. The thought that in judgment and chastisement God pulverizes things of this world that we would hold on to rather than reach out to Him. Yes, God loves...and sometimes He pulverizes you exactly because He loves you. Said another way, it is through our crushing and divesting us of the earthly or worldly dependencies in times of suffering that God clearly brings Himself into the sharpest focus in the sight of the believer. Sometimes in pain, truths become the most painfully evident. Through painful lessons, lessons of life are best gasped and absorbed. 

Hebrews 12:6 ~ "For the Lord disciplines the one he loves and chastises every son he accepts.”

James 1:2 ~ "My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials"

The word trials here being πειρασμοῖς or that which  examines, tests, and proves the character or integrity of something)

1 Peter 1:6-7 ~ "In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ…”

The word trails is used along with the word distressed/δοκίμιον here which means to prove by testing as with gold to see if it is real gold. In addition it is in the present passive genitive singular which is to say that the believers are/were currently going through sufferings inflicted on them by others as that is how they were/are being addressed. In other words, temptation and trails were an ongoing issue in the believers life as of the writing of 1 Peter. If they could expect it then, so too we should expect it now. Just as we saw in the Old Testament. Surprisingly, many of the suffering or trials are brought on by the believers own actions/sins.

We see this clearly in Israel’s exile and the destruction of the Temple. Because the Israelites valued the Temple and the things of the land in their country more than God, God took them all away and sent them into exile. They are then purged of all they had relied on earlier. They are stripped of all the materialistic and physical dependencies and forced to turn to God alone as they have nowhere else turn once they are in Babylonian captivity. It is no different than the premise for Christian salvation. We need to turn solely to God as there is no other source of holiness and salvation. The way is singular and exclusive.

John 14:6 ~ “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” 

What’s more is there is nothing we can do to affect our salvation either.

Titus 3:5 ~ “...He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit…”

We need to turn totally to God, to Jesus Christ. I believe this is exactly why the meek and the downtrodden in this life have a much higher probability of seeing Heaven than the arrogant and rich. These types of people have nowhere to turn and nothing to depend on whereas the rich and resourceful turn to plans and schemes that avail them nothing. The meek and humble realize their need for God and the rest do not.

We see the same in the narrative of Moses and the Israelites in Kadesh Barnea. The spies are sent into the promised land in Numbers 13:18-25. After forty days of exploration there were ten of the spies that had a bad report: “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than us…all the people we saw were of great size…we seemed like grasshoppers to them”

Numbers 13:31-33 ~ But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored. They said, “The land we explored devours those living in it. All the people we saw there are of great size. We saw the Nephilim there (the descendants of Anak come from the Nephilim). We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

Only the obedient and faithful Joshua and Caleb disagreed...

Numbers 14:6-7 ~ Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had explored the land, tore their clothes and said to the entire Israelite assembly, “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. 

Instead of believing God and the report of the two obedient servants of God, the people believe the report of the ten doubters. The people then lose heart and rebelled. In this situation they are relying solely on what they think they can do and seem to totally preclude God from the equation. The Lord’s anger is kindled and He threatens to strike them down with a plague and destroy them.

Numbers 14:11-12 ~ 1 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.”

Moses intercedes for them and instead of destruction the people face wilderness wandering for forty years, one year for each of the forty days they explored the land.

Numbers 14:32-34 ~ “But as for you, your bodies will fall in this wilderness. Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the wilderness. For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ 

They are then purged of all they had relied on earlier. Then...the entire exodus generation itself is then purged from the ranks of the Israelites (including Moses) through death until only Joshua and Caleb remain. It is then and only then that the Israelites are permitted to enter the promised land. In the wilderness they became dependent on things of God like manna, the brazen serpent during another period of rebellion and in the case of Moses striking the rock…even bare essentials such as water. God even goes to the extent of assuring that they would only need their sandals and their existing clothing as we read in this startling passage. We see here the amazing nature of supernatural provision believers became accustomed to even in their suffering.

Deuteronomy 29:5 ~ “I have led you forty years in the wilderness; your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandal has not worn out on your foot.

In the very heart of God’s punishment we see that God provides for the very necessities we need. It is in these pulverizing periods and “burn-off” periods that humanity becomes totally dependent on God. It is in these purge periods that God gives exactly as we need while simultaneously removing all the superfluous garbage that impedes our way to holiness. These pulverizing periods are not so much punishments as they are spiritual holiness building. It is God putting in our lives the very things we need to persevere towards glorification by working in our sanctification. It is God stripping is of the sinful things and the sinfulness of the world and making us run lean on holiness.

At the root of all these pulverizing periods is unbelief and apostasy from the One True God. Ironically, it is then God working directly through this unbelief and sin in an act of punishment that helps the rebellious believer to see exactly what is necessary for our own good. In so doing God grinds to dust anything that we might be tempted to latch on to in this world for support instead of latching on or turning to Him. Instead of then grasping on to something of substance...we grab only dust and things turned to waste. In all situations faithful believers are dependent believers…dependent on God. We should always be turning to God in dependence and thanks.

We saw the same in the book of Job. God allows the Devil to destroy Job’s life and Job’s reaction is immediate if not a bit melancholic. The direction Job turns is clear. He turns to face God in his pulverizing losses.

Job 1:21-22 ~ “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” In all this, Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing.

Even when Job’s wife tempts him to curse God he does the right thing. He tells her to shut her trap because she’s talking like a nincompoop.

We see more of the same in the prophet Habakkuk. Habakkuk sees the sin of the world around him (just like I do today) and is thoroughly disgusted with it. The direction he turns for an answer is the same as Job. He turns to God and laments the condition of society around him (just like I do).

Habakkuk 1:2-4 ~ “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, “Violence!” but you do not save? Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrongdoing? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and conflict abounds. Therefore the law is paralyzed, and justice never prevails. The wicked hem in the righteous, so that justice is perverted."

Again...whom does David turn to after his infidelity with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah the Hittite? The direction David turns with a repentant heart is clear. First we see the self-loathing in his punishment in Psalm 38…

Psalm 38:1-8 ~ “Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath. Your arrows have pierced me, and your hand has come down on me. Because of your wrath there is no health in my body; there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me like a burden too heavy to bear. My wounds fester and are loathsome because of my sinful folly. I am bowed down and brought very low; all day long I go about mourning. My back is filled with searing pain; there is no health in my body. I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart.

David even says it. When God has not turned and smiled kindly on us we are literally וְנִדְכֵּ֣יתִי broken, pulverized or crushed emotionally, spiritually and physically. We are left desolate and alone with nowhere meaningful to turn. David’s repentant contrite response surfaces most clearly in Psalm 51. This psalm might be the most significant bible passage illustrating a repentant heart in the entire Bible. Like Psalm 38, Psalm 51 is a penitential lament psalm. It is a prayer or psalm asking for forgiveness of sins and a psalm of restoration. We as believers know that David was forgiven and eventually restored. To some extent it is consolation for sinners like us that God indeed forgives even after such a horrible criminal act. If David did what he did and could be forgiven we too can be forgiven for our sins also. But to get to this point where David really needed to be in relation to God, he needed to be pulverized in punishment and brought quite low. Psalms 51 is the ultimate sinner’s prayer seeking forgiveness and repentance to help restore a relationship with the one true Almighty God...and that is the key. 

We must turn with a repentant heart back to a relationship with God.

There are many other examples from Scripture but you get the idea. All of these biblical examples in their punishment or strife whether it be physical, psychological or both have the correct response, they turn. They turn to God. It is no surprise than that we will see a call to repentance from John the Baptist when he becomes the forerunner of the Messenger of the Covenant: Jesus Christ. The very word repent/metanoeo/μετανοέω means to turn in the form of changing one’s mind or to change the inner person. In terms of holiness it means to turn from sin and face holiness, to turn from the world and face the One and Only Holy God. It takes the prodding and pushing of God to move us on our way in the right direction. Sometimes it takes God taking away everything from us to show that we need to turn elsewhere for an answer: Him. Sometimes that “taking away” requires that everything we used to know is either change unalterably or pulverized. To pulverize everything we once trusted so we no longer have it to trust…so that we will turn to the only One we can trust that cannot be pulverized.

We turn to Christ. Jesus Christ in whom we turn to and place all our trust in for our salvation. It is only when we come to the ends of ourselves and our abilities that we are truly capable of seeing exactly how much greatness God is capable of in our lives and those around us. A greatness that is like a light that shines most brightly when we don't block or inhibit it. It is then that we see the fullest manifestation of the Kingdom of God in this mortal life. Until we reach this end of ourselves and fully turn it over to God, the things of the world continue to blind us to the truth of His true greatness and keep the Kingdom of God at arm’s length. We are never quite able to fully embrace it.

What should also not surprise us as believers is just how difficult things might get in our lives. We will indeed suffer deaths, pains and miseries. They are not only inevitable…they absolutely required in a Christian life. It is only those who persevere to the end that get the reward.

Philippians 3:14 ~ “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

Revelation 14:12-13 ~ “Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”

We will often need to face what seem to be insurmountable mountains of grief and suffering. We will face the refiner’s fire but we will be purified coming out the other end. It is indeed the heat of the crucible that burns-off the impurity of an unholy life. It is in the pulverizing of the hammer that a diamond is broken from a stone, and the sculpture forms in the sculptor's hand. It is done specifically to sometimes make us suffer because it is in that suffering that we learn what is really necessary and what really matters. Like the cancer that sin is, sometimes a piece of the sinner needs to go with the sin to eradicate the sin from the sinner’s life. This is part of what it is to be sanctified or made holy through punishment, chastisement or suffering. The things that seem beautiful are transient and temporary. The things that seem most enduring and durable are easily shattered under the hand of God’s judgment and that is to show that it is God, not the things of this world that we should cling to.

It is when the building blocks that our life used to be made of are pulverized and crushed into powder that the dust can be then be reconstituted and remolded into the new bricks for a new creation. We then can be rebuilt from the fallen image to that of our God. We become a new creation, a creation that knows that the proper direction to face in this life is towards a holy God.

This is a really hard truth for most people to accept including Christians. At times it seems like a divine version of the, "This is going to hurt Me more than it is going to hurt you." In reality it is an outworking of God's justice to His glory and our eternal benefit as it drives us closer to Him. Part of the glory of God is in our struggle to wrestle ourselves from from the things that bind us to this world and to pursue God with reckless abandon. In this truth we can find peace even in the midst of our most severe punishments and sufferings.


darrellcreswell said...

Very well written. I appreciate God's correction as it is my desire to be submissive to His will but I am kind of hard-headed sometimes :) Blessings Darrell

Andy Pierson said...

I'm glad someone likes His pummeling :) I certainly don't :P. I have found that it is in the valley of the shadow of death that we pick up the supplies to climb the mountain to the pinnacle.

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