Advent delivered Malachi 3:1-4 yesterday and I realized something: following God is supposed to hurt some. It is not that God wants to inflict pain on us or that the Almighty hates us and wants to bludgeon us for our fallenness. But Malachi asks who could stand when God totally arrives on the scene. He continues by saying that we need to be refined.
Refining, I feel, would not be the most pleasant process. It involves the burning off of excess parts. Thus God, though God loves us, wants to refine us. God wants to burn off the parts of me that are selfish, apathetic, or whatever else that is undesirable. This can be a difficult process, perhaps even a painful one.
It is painful in a couple of ways. First, you have to realize that there is crap in your life; that you don’t really give to those in need or are sometimes uncaring in your relationships. We don’t enjoy that. We’d rather just be told that we’re awesome and not have to worry about change.
But that process of change can also be painful because the way of following Jesus often puts us in a vulnerable place. It can lead to acting in ways that will be unpopular within culture and also within the church (this does not mean that all unpopular actions are the result of a person following Christ; sometimes we’re being just remarkably jerk-like).
It is an idea that runs somewhat counter to the way that the Christian faith is often presented. We often boil following Jesus down to a decision and then coasting from that point forward. It is not something we say, but it is something we imply. We often present it as a consumer good that will solve our problems, make us happier, and more attractive. We do not always do an adequate job of talking about how difficult it is to follow God; to submit ourselves to a refiner’s fire.
Yet it’s a difficult balance. If you err too far in talk about the refiner’s fire, then you stumble into legalism and get burned. If you go too far in the opposite direction, then it is merely cheap grace and the person that follows Jesus does not live in a way that speaks to his message.
Put simply, God wants us to be better men and women. God wants us to be the kind of people that bring the shalom of God’s Kingdom wherever we go and in whatever we do. That requires introspection, honesty with ourselves, and the sometimes painful process of maturity. It can bring hurt into one’s life, even from places that may have once felt safe. Yet all these things shall pass.