Sunday May 17th 2020
Psalm 66:8-10, 16-20; John 14:15-21
Pastor Galen Zook
Tested and Tried as Silver
The psalmist said, “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.”
I don’t know if any of you have ever felt like you’ve been “tested” by God, or if you’ve ever felt like you were going through a fiery ordeal, but it’s very possible that some of us may feel that way right now. Many people in our world are experiencing joblessness, or financial insecurity. Many are experiencing health issues related to the Coronavirus, any many people have friends or family members who are sick or who have weakened immune systems.
Others maybe are experiencing loneliness or social isolation, or have fears are anxieties related to any of the above. Still others of you are dealing with the stress of trying to work from home, while also homeschooling your children and trying to find some peace and sanity in the midst of everyone living on top of each other all the time.
When silver is tested, it’s taken through a fiery furnace, and the fire actually causes the impurities to burn off or rise to the surface so they can be removed. After the impurities have been removed, what’s left is pure, valuable metal.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes Stronger
Many of us know from personal experience that tests and trials do serve to make us stronger. We even have a saying, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”
But at the same time, during the process of enduring tests and trials, the impurities in our own lives come to the surface.
Times such as the one that we’re living in right now tend to bring everything to the surface. The faults and failures of poor leadership is most evident during times of crisis, as is the strength and courage of competent leaders.
In the midst of the busyness of everyday life, many of us might be able to cover up things like anger, or bitterness. But when things heat up, those hidden tendencies tend to come out.
At the same time, people who are compassionate, or merciful, or loving, often grow even more-so when they go through tests and trials.
Trials and tribulations and loneliness bring out the best and the worst in us — and they tend to strengthen our resolve — for better or for worse.
Through Fire and Through Water
For the author of Psalm 66, the tests and tribulations that the people of Israel faced throughout their history served to highlight the goodness and mercy of God.
Depicting God as a master craftsman, testing silver and removing the dross, the psalmist recounts some of the trials and tribulations that the people of Israel had experienced over the years.
The psalmist says, “You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water, yet you have brought us out to a spacious place.” (Psalm 66:11-12).
The people of Israel had indeed gone through many fiery ordeals. Enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, wandering in the wilderness for 40 years, they had endured famine and hardship, they were attacked by enemy armies, they experienced sickness and plagues, you name it. And yet, the psalmist says, “you [God] have brought us out to a spacious place.”
Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?
This of course begs the question, is God the One behind the suffering in the world? Is God the One who brings about trials and tribulations, storms and pestilence, and plagues? Or even, we might ask today, did God send the Coronavirus?
From the poet’s perspective in Psalm 66, some of the tests and trials that the Israelites faced throughout their history were directly caused by God. The psalm-writer says, for example, “you brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs” (Psalm 66:11). Other tribulations, however, seemed to be merely permitted by God — “You let people ride over our heads” (Psalm 66:12a). In those instances there was an enemy involved — God was not the one bringing about the suffering, but on the other hand neither did God intervene to stop it from happening.
And then there are those other experiences recounted in Psalm 66, where God is not the who caused the suffering nor does it even seem that God willed for it to happen — but instead, God acted as their rescuer. The psalmist said, “we went through fire and through water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place” (Psalm 66:12.
What’s interesting to me is that psalmist seems to harbor no bitterness toward God, no matter God’s involvement. Instead the psalmist sees God as using each and every scenario for their good.
And in response, the Psalmist praises God, and offerings burnt offerings as sacrifices. The psalmist even gathers everyone around to hear them talk about what God has done for them (see Psalm 66:16). Psalm 66 ends with the psalmist saying, “Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me.” (Psalm 66:20).
The psalmist acknowledges that no matter whether hardship or difficulty is from God, God can use tests or tribulations or trials to purify us and strengthen us.
When We’re in the Furnace
The reality is that most of the time we have no idea why bad things happen to us. Often we can’t even find any redemptive value to suffering, even after years of looking back and mulling over past events. Many times we have absolutely no idea whether the suffering we’re experiencing is an attack from the Enemy, or whether we’re just going through a bad experience because we live in a fallen world where bad things happen.
I’m personally skeptical of people who try to say that they know why something bad is happening, or people who claim to have received a revelation that God is the one who caused some evil act of nature to occur.
Personally I think there is so much that we don’t understand about the nature of the universe — and I think it’s best to admit that. I believe that most of the bad things that we experience in this life fall into the third category — events for which we may never know why they happened. But we can trust that no matter the cause, no matter whether we ever know the reason or purpose, God can work through any experience to bring about good in our lives, if we will open ourselves up and allow God to work in our lives.
Imagine with me for a second that the silver that went through the fire refused to allow the master craftsman to scrape the dross and impurities off the top. Now, I know that silver doesn’t have a mind of its own, and it can’t prevent the craftsman from doing his or her work. But just imagine that after the silver went through the fiery furnace, the silver said, “No! Don’t touch me! I’m fine the way I am.”
Sure, there would be some pure silver buried down beneath the surface. But what would be most apparent would be the impurities. The furnace would have brought up all the dirt and dross to the surface, and rather than making the silver more beautiful, it would be dirty and ugly.
As human beings, we have been created with freedom of choice. We are not drones or robots moving through this world, without a mind of our own. As humans we have been created with a will and a conscience. And while there are many things that happen to us that are outside of our control, we can choose whether or not we’re going to allow God to work through those things to purify us and strengthen us.
Keep in mind — whether or not you allow God to work in your life, you’re going to go through the same tests and trials. Following Jesus does not mean in any way shape or form that your life is going to be perfect and easy. The difference is in how we come out the other side.
When we go through tests and trials, the impurities will come to the surface. The ugliness, the bitterness, the dross, and the pure silver — it will become very apparent. We can try to hide our faults and failures, we can try to cover them up. We can lie to ourselves or to other people. We can bury our secret sins and hope that no one will find out. But if we do, we’ll become even more entrenched in our own webs of deception.
Alternatively we can let God in. We can admit our faults and failures, and we can allow God to come in and scrape the impurities away, making us even stronger and more beautiful than before.
It’s hard to admit our mistakes. It hurts our pride to admit where we’ve gone wrong. But the good news is that we don’t have to do this alone. In John 14, Jesus promised us that if we love him and keep his commandments, then he would give us another Advocate, the Holy Spirit, which he called “the Spirit of Truth” to live inside of us, to be with us.
This is a beautiful promise of God’s provision and protection and presence with us through the Holy Spirit, as we live in God’s love, and keep Jesus’s commandments to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We will experience tests and trials and tribulations in this life. We may not always know why they happen, but we can rest assured that if we live in God’s love, God will indeed dwell with us, and use even the negative experiences that we go through to transform us into something beautiful.