The Refining Power of Adversity
HOW prone we are to shrink back or try to come out from under the trials and sufferings of adversity! Yet are not all such the common lot of humankind? As patient Job exclaimed in the midst of his trials: “Man, born of woman, is short-lived and glutted with agitation.” And as wise King Solomon observed, the lot of man “means pains and vexation.”—Job 14:1; Eccl. 2:23.
Since adversity is the lot of humankind, why rebel against it? Adversity, regardless of its cause or nature, can actually work out good for us if we bear up under it in the right frame of mind and for the sake of principle. Not without good reason does the Bible repeatedly recommend to us the virtue of endurance.—Matt. 24:13; Heb. 12:1; 2 Pet. 1:5, 6.
Yes, submitting to conditions that cause suffering, mental or physical, can exert a refining power upon us. It can cause one to become a better person, more understanding, more unselfish. This refining power might be likened to the heat that in olden times was used to refine gold and silver and that today is used to temper steel. Using this illustration, Jehovah God prophetically caused to be recorded of his faithful people: “I shall certainly bring the third part through the fire; and I shall actually refine them as in the refining of silver, and . . . gold.” As a result of this refining work God will be able to say to them, ‘You are my people,’ and they will readily acknowledge, ‘Jehovah is our God.’—Zech. 13:9.
How does this principle apply to our everyday lives in these modern times? For example, through misfortune, lack of good judgment or selfishness, one may have gotten into financial deep waters, so to speak. One could take the easy way out by going into personal bankruptcy, which is what many people are doing. According to U.S. News & World Report, April 3, 1967, the number of such bankruptcies for the twelve months ending June 30, 1967, would be at least 186,000. This is three times that of ten years ago and involves a loss to creditors of $1,500,000,000. But one may have quite a bit of carelessness or selfishness refined away by honoring the obligations, practicing rigid economy and working hard to meet them, if at all able to do so; not to say anything about keeping one’s self-respect and a clearer conscience.
This more honorable course is the one that the psalmist of old, King David, recommended when he spoke favorably about the one that “has sworn to what is bad for himself, and yet he does not alter.” Or as worded by a modern free translation, David commended him “who stands by his pledge at any cost.”—Ps. 15:4, The Jerusalem Bible.
Another example that might be given of the refining power of adversity endured because of principle and in the right frame of mind is that which at times comes to parents with the discovery that a child of theirs is what used to be called “mentally retarded,” but now is more considerately and accurately described as a “slow learner.” What shall they do? Become bitter and resentful? Or lightly shift their burden to a state institution and forget all about the child, as some parents have done? No, there is a better way.
True, keeping such a child at home may place quite a burden upon the rest of the family, but what possibilities the bearing of this burden holds out in the way of refining them by training them to exercise patience, sympathy, understanding and empathy; in brief, unselfishness! As one of America’s leading writers—whose autobiographical book has proved a great comfort to ever so many parents with slow-learning children—expressed it: “My helpless child has taught me so much. She has taught me patience, above all else.” In fact, latest medical opinion holds that if it is at all practicable, it is the best for all concerned, for society, for the parents and for the child itself, to keep it at home.—The Child Who Never Grew, Pearl Buck (1950).
Then, again, the refining power of adversity can be experienced by ‘standing by one’s pledge, one’s marriage vows, at any cost,’ in spite of keen disillusionment and disappointment. Unhappy results often follow when persons lacking in understanding marry, as in the case of teen-agers. Many seek the easy way out, by means of separation or divorce; and this is the course that many teen-agers in the United States are taking, with divorces being from three to four times as high among teen-age married persons as among older persons.
However, there are great possibilities for the refining of the personalities of each by each resolving to endure the period of adjustment needed; by learning to exercise self-control under provocation, learning to express unselfish interest in the other, thereby progressing to the emotional maturity each should have had before getting married in the first place. After all, did they not marry “for better or for worse,” and does it not largely depend upon themselves as to just how much joy or pain each gets from the relationship? Those who want to make a success of it can find much helpful counsel in the Word of God, the Bible.—1 Cor. 7:10, 11; Eph. 5:22-33.
Of course, all of this has the most pertinent application to Christians who have dedicated themselves to God, for the doing of his will, and to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. In carrying out their dedication they may well find hardships in the form of discipline and adversity that they had not foreseen. But by enduring they will be refined, even as indicated by the inspired words: “No discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit, namely, righteousness.” And, additionally, Christians have the promise of receiving everlasting life by enduring to the end.—Heb. 12:11; Matt. 24:13.