love as fire

A woman who spent the night with us last night confused and worried us all by spending almost three hours taking a bath. There were also many loud splashing sounds that we couldn't figure out. My best guess was that it was some kind of purification ritual for her (she was a rather unusual in other ways as well).

My shower this morning also felt like a purification after the hardships of this week. But water is not the only thing used for purification, as I was reminded as I read Isaiah 1 for our bible study tonight:

I will turn my hand against you
and will smelt away your dross as with lye
and remove all your alloy. (Is 1.25)
Those words made me think of my comments about suffering yesterday. I think we have to be very careful in talking about suffering as punishment and trying to lay blame, which was the fault of Job's friends. But I think it is good to recognize suffering as a purifying fire. Later in Isaiah, the prophet speaks more explicitly:
Behold, I have refined you, but not like silver;
I have tried you in the furnace of affliction. (Is 48.10)

In Hebrews also, the writer speaks of God using suffering to purify us, saying "he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." (Heb 12.10-11) And he even says Jesus himself "learned obedience through what he suffered." (Heb 5.8)

We see this role of suffering also in Jesus' parable of the prodigal son, where he is pressed hard by his circumstances and so turns back to his loving father.

Affliction and suffering as refinement. As purification. Not because God hates us or does not care (or can do nothing about it), but because God loves us and wants to draw us back to himself, to make us better, to perfect us, to make us one with him. That is one of the simplest spiritual truths to say, and one of the hardest to hold on to in the midst of suffering.

But it may be the "good news" that I can actually say to the poor and afflicted.