Everything working toward something good and beautiful is a whole lot different than only good happening, right? Some of us are duped into the mistaken belief that followers of Christ will somehow be "exempt" from any type of bad stuff coming our way - that scripture declares only "good" will happen in their lives. In truth, the opposite is true - for Christ even warned his disciples to "take heart" when they faced the many trials and evil plots that came their way (John 16:33). He never said they wouldn't face them, or that only good things would come their way - he said they'd be able to take heart and stand strong because their peace was not found in the absence of "bad circumstances", but in the presence of him as we face those circumstances!
We are confident that God is able to orchestrate everything to work toward something good and beautiful when we love Him and accept His invitation to live according to His plan. (Romans 8:28 VOICE)
I came across a quote recently which lends itself to our discussion today: "A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials." (Lucius Annaeus Seneca) Seneca was a Roman philosopher during the time of Nero. Sometimes the works of older philosophers and authors give us very vivid pictures of a lesson we can take to heart, don't they? A stone is just a stone until it is put into the tumbler with other stones and spun over and over again. Once it is tumbled a few thousand times, the appearance of the stone begins to resemble something close to the gemstone we all recognize. Then the finishing touches are applied by polishing the now smoothed surface to a high gloss. What once was a simple looking stone becomes a radiant gem - all because of the friction!
What goes into the tumbler is a mixture of raw gemstones - ragged, unpolished, and only subtly recognizable. Then there are other things put in with those stones - such as pieces of ceramic, metal, and even other stones. As the stones tumble, grit can be added to refine the stones even further. It isn't just the stones in the tumbler - the things which don't seem to the naked eye to be of much worth that are what really accomplishes the action of refining the gemstones toward their final state of beauty. The stuff some may have labeled as "junk" in the mix is what really becomes the objects which lead to the friction which will produce the beauty previously unrecognized in the gemstones themselves.
The passage today deals with that oft mistaken truth about trials and troubles - it isn't God taking bad stuff out of our way that makes us strong - it is him working all things in our lives toward something good and beautiful. Our part is to put our trust in him, allow our hearts to be softened by his love, and then live deeply in that love until we are able to see the beauty in what we are going through. The gemstone in the tumbler doesn't recognize the beauty being produced, but it is the process which will reveal it. We want to escape the tumbler and just get a good polishing so we can shine without all the unpleasantness of the process! Spoiler alert: The process reveals what is in our heart and where it is we place our trust. Bypass the process and we won't really know what is in our heart! Just sayin!