But who can endure the day of his coming?
Who can stand when he appears?
For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap.
While looking at pictures of burning buildings in Japan after the earthquake, it is wholly evident that much of the infrastructure in the effected areas is being completely consumed by fire, if it wasn’t swept away in the waves. It is being quickly destroyed, to eventually be rebuilt from the ground up. There is nothing but debris, nothing left to salvage.
Yet we are told that God does not destroy his people like these buildings are destroyed. Instead our debris and impurities are wiped away, as if painfully scrubbed by soap or refined by fire. We are left whole, intact and unsullied.
Only then can we be ready for what is to come.
It is hard to admit: I need cleaning, and badly. It isn’t just dirty fingernails after working in the barn, or the messed up hair after being out in the wind. I am usually presentable most of the time, but there is still plenty of grime in every aspect of my being, primarily invisible and internal.
Refining is a painful process whether by complete melt down by fire or a thorough scrubbing by soap. Malachi addresses this and John Piper on www.desiringgod.org helps me understand why this must hurt:
“We were created in the image of God with the potential to reverence God and trust him and obey him and glorify him, but we were born in iniquity and in sin did our mothers conceive us. We are shot through with the impurity of rebellion and unbelief, and we fall short of God’s glory again and again.
You can prove this to yourself in many ways. For example, you can notice how readily your heart inclines to those things that will show your strengths to other people, and how resistant your heart is to communion with God in solitude.
So we are impure by nature and by practice. But God will have no alloys in heaven. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’ And yet he will have someone in heaven. He will have a redeemed people. His banquet hall will be full. And therefore he must be a refiner’s fire. If he were only a forest fire, heaven would be empty. If he were only an incinerating fire, heaven would be empty. And if he were no fire, heaven would be empty.”