God’s Mining Operation
Whenever ore is extracted from the earth, it must be processed to yield the valuable material hidden within. That valuable material or “valuable fraction” might be gold, silver, iron, nickel, copper, aluminum, or uranium. It might also be coal. Unfortunately, this “valuable fraction” is mixed with what is called “uneconomic fraction.” This is the mostly useless material mixed with the valuable.
To free the valuable fraction from the useless material around it, miners employ a variety of methods. For instance, in “placer mining” the ore is mixed with water and gravity serves to separate the valuable fraction. “Panning” for gold or using a sluice box are examples of this. In “hard rock mining” the rock containing the ore is pulverized and chemicals are then used to extract the valuable material.
Once the valuable material is extracted from the ore and the surrounding rock, only the “uneconomic fraction” is left. This material is referred to as “tailings.” Tailings are the waste material left over from the mining process. Its consistency will range from tiny rocks, to grains of sand, to a fine powder. While some tailing can be reprocessed economically, most is useless and often toxic.
Disposing of mining tailings – which amounts to hundreds of millions of tons annually – is a major environmental concern. Tailings can contaminate ground water, rivers, and streams. If the material is very fine it can become airborne and pollute the air.
I thought about these mining processes yesterday while reading from two biblical passages – on in Matthew and the other in Micah. In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 11, Jesus explains that the “Kingdom of heaven is suffering violence and violent men are taking it by force” (Matthew 11:12).
The context of this statement is the imprisonment of John the Baptist and his apparent disappointment with Jesus. John sends word to Jesus, asking, “Are you the expected Messiah, or should we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2-3). John was understandably troubled. “If the kingdom of God is coming with the Messiah, then why am I languishing away in prison? If the Messiah’s righteous reign has come, then why do the wicked prevail in the earth? Why aren’t the righteous vindicated and the wicked punished – or at least, restrained?”
Jesus’ answer is complex. First, he points John to the fact that He is fulfilling Messianic prophecies by healing the sick and lame (e.g. Isaiah 35). Second, Jesus explains that divine retribution is about to be executed, though not in the way people expect. In order to redeem sinners, God is going to punish Jesus for their sins upon the cross. The ultimate sacrifice will be offered upon the ultimate altar.
Third, Jesus points to a process that’s been going on since wicked Cain murdered his brother, righteous Abel (1 John 3:12-13). God is using this world’s hostility and persecution of the righteous to both purify them and – through martyrdom – extract them from this wicked world. God is allowing His kingdom to suffer violence. He’s allowing Satan to wage war against His people (Daniel 7:25; Revelation 13:7) – to purify and remove them from this blood-stained ground. As miners separate the gold, silver, and copper from the tailings, so God is removing His redeemed from among the wicked.
In a strange twist, the wicked themselves help facilitate this process by their own hatred and persecution of the righteous. The prophet Micah cried out against the injustices committed against the defenseless and poor, against those who cry out to God for justice. In the end, only the wicked are left in the land (Micah 7:2-7), just as a mining operation only leaves the worthless and toxic tailings behind.
Of course, this creates a terrifying situation for the wicked. First, with the righteous gone, no one is left to trust in, to confide in, or to be a faithful friend. With only the wicked remaining in the land, one must be on his perpetual guard against his neighbor, even against his children and the wife he embraces. And, most important, without the presence of the righteous to stave off the Lord’s judgment (e.g. Genesis 18:22-32), the land is ready and ripe for destruction.
Maybe, like John the Baptist – and so many other followers of Christ – you’ve become discouraged lately. You’ve wondered why God allows the wicked to prosper and the righteous to suffer. Maybe you’re wondering, like John, “Where is God’s sovereignty in all the evil that prevails in America?”
Yet never overlook God’s redemptive “mining process.” Through the very hostility of the wicked, God is purifying us and making us more like Jesus Christ. He’s separating us from the wicked – just as sledging and winnowing separates the precious grains of wheat from the worthless chaff (Matthew 3:12). And this same hostility may be the means by which God extracts us out of this present evil age.
Jesus was not exempt from this process. Like John the Baptist, He too met a violent end – as did all but one of His apostles. So let’s take His nail-scarred hand and follow Him by whatever path He leads us. Whether it be the path of a long life of service or the path of martyrdom for His sake, eternal glory and joy in heaven await us (Matthew 5:10-12).
PRAYER: Almighty and merciful Father, into Your loving and capable hands I commit myself and all that is dear to me. I confess my weakness and total dependency upon You, O God. I cannot be the witness for Jesus that I need to be in my own power. Only You can bear me up and empower me to stand up for the Lord Jesus. Only You can give me the faith, boldness, and wisdom I’ll need in the hour of temptation. Please, dear Father, fill me with Your Holy Spirit and grant that I will glorify Jesus, Your Son, by my living and my dying. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
(Information from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tailings)