Beauty From Ashes
To grant to those who mourn in Zion….a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning. (Isaiah 61:3)
As we watch tragic events unfolding, or experience adversity ourselves, we often fail to see any possible good to us or glory to God that can come from it. But is not the wisdom of God- and thus the glory of God- more eminently displayed in bringing good out of calamity than out of blessing?
There’s no question that God’s people live in a hostile world. We have an enemy, the devil, who “ prowls around like a roaring Lion, seeking someone to devour”(1 Peter 5:8). He wants to sift us like wheat as he did Peter (Luke 22:31), or make us curse God as he tried to get Job to do. God does not spare us from the ravages of disease, heartache, and disappointment of this sin-cursed world. But God is able to take all of these elements- the bad as well as the good- and make full use of every one.
As someone years ago said, “A lesser wisdom than the Divine would feel impelled to forbid, to circumvent, or to resist the out working of these hellish plans. It is a fact that often God’s people try to do this themselves, or cry unceasingly to the Lord that He may do it. So it is that prayers often seem to lie unanswered. For we are being handled by a wisdom which is perfect, a wisdom which can achieve what it [intends] by taking hold of things and people which bare meant for evil and making them work together for good.”
God’s infinite wisdom is displayed in bringing good out of evil, beauty out of ashes. It is displayed in turning all the forces of evil that rage against His children into good for them. But the good that He brings about is often different from the good we envision.
The book of Malachi paints a beautiful picture of God’s design for our future. In His eternal plans and thoughts, He sees us a beautiful gems shining and reflecting His glory.
“Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, And the Lord listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the Lord And who meditate on His name. “They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them As a man spares his own son who serves him.”
When jewels are mined from the earth they have little if any beauty. It is through a process of cutting and shaping and polishing that their true beauty is seen. In other words, pardon the pun they go through a rough time. They have pieces cut away and what remains is passed through a bath of grit that grinds away the edges until they are smooth and can then be mounted in settings of gold or silver. Once done they create a sense of awe of their beauty that their owner proudly displays.
Diamonds, one of the more sought after jewels, begins its life as nothing more than decayed plant life. Pressed down into the depths of the earth and placed under extreme heat and pressure, that decayed substance becomes coal, a black hardened element. Under more heat and pressure, that piece of coal begins to transform from opaque to something that becomes transparent. I’m told that it then finds itself in tubes and under even more pressure is pushed upward through a blue clay until it comes into the reach of the miners. When it is first touched, it is nothing more than a dull rock but those who know diamonds can see its potential to reflect the beauty of the Creator. So this rock is carefully cut with each facet properly set so that it will reflect the beauty of light. Without the cutting and polishing it would remain an unattractive and dull stone but once submitted to the process it becomes a beautiful gem.
This is the plans and purposes of God for us. What this means to us is that God never permits anything that will destroy us, only those things that through His wisdom will develop us as His dear children. I realize when we are going through the cutting and polishing that the pain of the chisel and the irritant of the grit that polishes can often be so strong that we feel as though we are somehow being subjected to punishment and destruction. When we read the story of Job it is surely obvious that in his suffering Job must have felt all the pain and confusion we feel when life becomes challenging. Through that story we find a man who in spite of his suffering refused to let go of his relationship with God and in the end received more than blessing. He received the recognition of God as a faithful servant and I have to believe he also received the devil’s respect.
Someone has said that everything thing in life will either make you better or make you bitter. What I am learning when I’m experiencing the challenges of life is to ask a different question. For years, most of the time my question was, “God why are You letting this happen to me? What have I done to deserve this? Don’t You care that I’m suffering?” I’ve discovered there’s are futile and foolish questions. I know this because I know that my Heavenly Father loves me and it’s never His pleasure for me to suffer. I also know that He takes no delight in punishing His children and since He placed the punishment for my sins upon Christ then what I’m experiencing has to have another reason. I’m fully aware that I live in a sin-cursed world that is filled with calamity and trouble often of our own making. I’m aware that Satan seeks to steal, kill, and destroy. I’m also aware that God is sovereign. So how do we correlate all this? For me in the place of suffering and trial, my question now is this: “God what are You teaching me here? What is is that You’re cutting away of me so that the glory of Christ may be more visible to the world? Is this my fiery furnace where those things which bind me are being burnt in the flames so that I may be free to walk with You even in the fire?
I recognize that we are living in troubling times. With the shadow of the pandemic hovering over us, with the economic and governmental uncertainties before us, with the unrest and the divisions all around us as well as all the evil and darkness increasing, and on top of all this is the personal struggles with our own family and personal trials, it sometimes feels almost unbearable. Yet we believe that God is for us and is around us and will never abandon us.
Like the diamond we may be under intense heat and pressure. We may feel the sharp edge of life cutting away at us but let us remember that God our Creator controls the heat and pressure and the chisel and He will not let them work in destruction but to bring beauty from ashes.
We read Romans 8:28:
And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
So if you’re going through a rough time and the pressure and heat feel more than you can bear, hold on to this promise that God will turn your mourning into gladness and your ashes into beauty. I think that when we get to heaven and see our journey from heaven’s view, we will surely see that everything that happened in our lives molded us into the person we are standing before Christ. And we will hear Him say, “Well done.”
The Apostle Paul gives us a beautiful goal to reach toward. In spite of his suffering and all he experienced, he says this:
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”
2 Timothy 4:6-8
May this be our story and may we shine as the jewels of heaven bringing pleasure and glory to our Father.
Dr. John Thompson