The Pursuit of God

Serious Topics for Serious Christians

Understanding Refinement: Why is God being so mean?


AUDIO VERSION: YouTube  Podbean

Spiritual refinement is about deepening your personal relationship with God. Since your entire relationship with Him is built on trust, that trust needs to be massively strengthened. Now if a human being wanted to strengthen your trust in him, what does he do? He treats you extra good for a long time. He goes out of his way to demonstrate his devotion to you through positive actions. After you experience his kind treatment for long enough, your trust in him deepens. Eventually, a crisis situation arises in which you feel greatly in danger. The man comes up with a solution to the problem which doesn’t feel right to you at all. But when he then locks eyes with you and says, “Trust me. I love you and I would never do anything to hurt you,” all that positive history you have between you will cause you to nod your head and put your trust in him.

That was a pretty rosy picture of trust development, wasn’t it? It makes total sense to us, and when we’re told “God wants to deepen your trust in Him,” we expect similar treatment from Him. And yet this isn’t what God does at all. Instead of reassuring us through lots of positive blessings, He starts sticking it to us on purpose. He dangles some blessing we’d really like only to yank it away just as we reach for it. We soon tire of that nasty little game and we start getting bitter. We decide that if God is going to toy with us so meanly, then we just won’t care about anything, then He won’t have opportunity to disappoint us. We try hard to numb ourselves out, only to find that there is no way to defend ourselves against the God who controls every atom of our being. God knows how to make us care about things against our will, and if we aren’t caring enough to suit His purposes, He cranks up the heat. We find ourselves devastated when a job falls through or we’re rejected in a relationship. We swore we wouldn’t get so attached, but God forced us to. We try our best to cut ties and move on, but God keeps us tormented by the memory of what might have been. With Him treating us so cruelly, is it any wonder we start to hate Him? What is God doing? Before He started being so mean, we sincerely loved Him. We trusted Him. We craved more of His Company. If spiritual refinement is about God drawing us closer, doesn’t He realize He’s doing it wrong?

God has an entirely different approach to trust development than we do. He sees your trust in Him as a system which is weakened by false beliefs, fears, and insecurities about who He is and how He views you. Uprooting these troublesome things one by one is how God strengthens your trust. It’s a violent, uncomfortable process, because the most effective way to disprove a lie is to first make it seem to come true. For example, deep inside, you are afraid that God’s love for you might suddenly cease to be. You’re also assessing His love for you based on His actions. When He blesses you, you count it as evidence that He likes you. When He withholds blessings, you count it as evidence that He doesn’t like you. Well, your assessment system is lousy, but you’re not alone in using it—every human starts out trying to confirm God’s love for them through His behavior. On this earth, that’s how we learn to think. We can’t see each other’s souls, we can only see earthsuit behavior. So we’ve decided that earthsuit behavior must be a good indicator for soul intentions. If someone is rude to us, they’re evil-hearted. If they’re nice to us, they’re good-hearted. It’s a great little system we’ve come up with. Of course it’s totally inaccurate, but we’re in denial about this because it’s all we have. We don’t want to face the truth about how blind we are in this world, so we keep on pretending that someone’s behavior is an accurate reflection of who they are. We go through life constantly misjudging each other while we pretend to know each other well.

God knows all about the lousy judgment system we use, and He knows how limited and flawed it is. It doesn’t work with humans, and it certainly won’t work with Him. He is far too complex to stay within our teensy little range of “loving behavior.” If we’re really going to feel secure in His Company, we need to learn to stop trying to assess His love for us by how much He happens to be blessing us at the moment. In reality, many of God’s good gifts seem lousy to us at first. It’s only much later on that we look back and realize how excellent His care of us has been. If God were to try and earn our trust through nice behavior, His care of us would be terribly lousy from His perspective. This won’t do at all, for God loves us too much to compromise His care of us.

So now the goal is clear: God needs to teach us to stop rooting our trust in Him based on how He is treating us in a given moment. There needs to be room for God to put us through tough trials without us plummeting into doubt about His love for us. We need to stop resting all of our confidence on circumstances, because circumstance will always change. Instead, we need to put our trust in God’s Character. We need to become convinced deep down that God really is as good as He claims to be, and that His goodness is unchanging. Then our trust will have something it can build on—something which will never crumble beneath it.

So how will God go about convincing us of His goodness? By using our own judgment system to uproot fears we have that He isn’t good. We think that if God gets our hopes up only to dash them, He must be nasty at heart. Alright then: He does exactly that. He raises up hopes, and then dashes them violently on the rocks. We react with pain and anger. Now progress is being made. But pain and anger are only covers—God wants to dig deeper. More hopes, more dashing. We get more hurt and more angry, and the intensified emotions are dragging our specific fears about God closer to the surface. God wants all fears dragged out into the light of our conscious minds.

We all have questions and fears about God that we don’t like looking at because they scare us. We secretly think they must be true, and the human way of dealing with upsetting truths is to push them away and not look at them. If God is cruel, where does that leave us? If He decides He is bored with you or that He doesn’t want you anymore, what can you do to change His mind? You’re just a powerless little fleck and He is God Almighty. What’s to stop Him from randomly tossing you into Hell when you die? Nothing! If God isn’t really good, then we have no security at all. There can be no peace, no trust, and no safety. There can be nothing but anxiety and dread as we slink around hoping to stay beneath His radar. The issue of God’s goodness affects everything—it determines the quality of our entire existence. This is far too serious a thing for us to just have a tenuous grasp of. Oh sure, we sing about God’s goodness in church on Sunday morning, but do we really, truly believe it way down deep in our cores? Do we know that God is good, or are we just hoping that He’s good? Are we clinging to a proven belief or just a nice sounding theory that we hope never gets disproved? We’re clinging to a theory at first—all of us. We don’t like to think so, but we are, and that’s why we’re all carrying around deep fears and insecurities about God’s love for us. If we knew He is good, we wouldn’t question His goodness, yet the reality is that we do question it all the time. When something terrible happens to our loved ones, we feel threatened and scared. Why? Because somewhere deep inside, we feel certain fears being confirmed.

We are all judging God by His actions, and when those actions seem cruel to us, the fear that God Himself is cruel begins to grow. God knows this. He understands us inside and out. God wants to get you to the place where you know that He is good. He wants to get you to the place where you feel so secure with Him, and so confident in His undying love for you that nothing He does will rattle you.

Spiritual refinement is about dredging up all your worst fears about God and killing them once and for all. It’s a long, frightening process, because God kills our fears by first going out of His way to prove them correct. Whatever it is you’re afraid of God doing, He’s going to seem to do. God is like the parent who teaches his child to get over his fear of a monster in the closet by building a big, scary looking monster, putting it in the closet, and then shoving his child into the closet with the creepy thing and locking the door. God’s methods seem terrible to us—they seem guaranteed to leave us permanently traumatized and spiritually crippled. But God knows what He’s doing and His methods work. Our methods of denial and skirting the issue seem more effective to us, but in the long run our methods don’t work. It doesn’t matter how strong you think your faith and trust in God is before refinement—you’re going to go down with shocking swiftness once He starts dredging up your secret fears about Him.

So then, refinement is a frightening, uncomfortable process, and there’s nothing we can do to change that. But it is still very helpful to understand what God’s end goals are. God is going to put you through hell in order to bring you out into a place where nothing shakes your trust and confidence in Him. When you get there, you will look back on your refinement period and say, “It was worth it.” Everyone who gets out on the other side says it was worth it. Everyone who’s going through it swears they’ll never say it was worth it. This is a system that is tried and true. God knows how to eliminate fear from your life, and this is the path. Don’t expect your faith and good feelings towards God to hold out through this because they won’t. But He will get you through this, and He will make sure you see your reward.

The only people God takes through intense refinement are those who have fully submitted to Him and asked Him to have His total way in their lives. If you’ve permanently surrendered to God only to find your relationship with Him starting to turn sour, take heart. You’re on your way to an awesome place.

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