From a Puritan prayer:
“If my life is to be a crucible amid burning heat, so be it, but do thou sit at the furnace mouth to watch the ore that nothing be lost.” [The Valley of Vision, Banner of Truth Trust, edited by Arthur Bennett].
My friend Harry Hanger is leading our small group in an exploration of suffering; this is poignant since Harry has ALS, otherwise known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Suffering comes in many forms, but whatever the form, whatever the apparent cause, for the Christian suffering can be formative and preparation for eternity. As Paul writes, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us,” (Romans 8:18).
I am struck by Harry’s eternal perspective; he is an inspiration to all of us who gather with him on Tuesday mornings and he is a reminder to me to focus on what is important and to live every day in the light of eternity in Jesus Christ. Harry graciously reminds us on Tuesdays that we all encounter suffering, I write “graciously” because few of us have encountered suffering on a par with ALS. Yet, Harry is right, we all know suffering – whether it is physical or emotional or mental…the list is long and deep and wide. One of our group lost a wife when he and his children were young, others have serious physical conditions, another recently lost a grandchild…I could add to the list in our little group…such a little group and yet such suffering.
But that is the human condition; in some people suffering is not as apparent as others; in some it is easily observable, in others it is deep and hidden. But whatever form suffering may take, those in a relationship with Jesus Christ have One at the furnace mouth who watches the ore that nothing be lost. This is the deepest of mysteries, it is deep space in the Divine counsels; it surpasses human reasoning – and when we try to make sense of suffering we fall woefully short, when we attempt to rationalize it we play instruments that are out of tune.
In suffering we experience God in ways not otherwise possible, and in suffering we have the opportunity to touch one another in ways we otherwise couldn’t conceive. There is a sacredness in walking with one another through suffering, a transcendence that allows heart to meet heart, where the only words that carry the weight of glory are, “I love you and I am here with you.” Nothing more can be added, nothing more can be said as we stand in the furnace with our friends, our families, our neighbors, our brothers and sisters in Christ; knowing all the while that One stands at the furnace mouth watching the ore that nothing be lost.