Refining Fire

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.  Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

–          1 Peter 1:3-9


I want to get my geek on – don’t say I didn’t warn you.  But if you hang in there for six or seven paragraphs of pure, wonderful geekdom, I will tie it into the Scripture.


Okay, I know little about refining gold, but I imagine it isn’t much different than refining steel or aluminum or any metal for that matter.  The melting point of gold is a little under 2000◦F, while aluminum melts about 1220◦F and steel melts in a range from 2600 to 2800◦F.  If you have stood next to any of these in their molten state, they are all hot.


Once when working in Thailand, I needed to take pictures of a molten metal process, I backed up to get everything into the camera’s frame.  I felt my back start to melt.  Not really, but it felt like it.  I turned around to find that there was no guardrail (remember Thailand, not the USA).  I was one more step from falling off a ten-foot drop into a ladle full of molten steel that had just come from the melting furnace.  As they stopped the ladle, the liquid sloshed back and forth and the crust on top broke, revealing a crack of pure molten steel beneath.


At that point, from ten feet away, I experienced what the lake of fire must feel like.  It was hard to breathe for two reasons.  The heat quickly heated the air that I was breathing and the realization that one more step would have led to my death.  From ten feet away, you can hear your exposed skin sizzle at it reacts to the heat, at first only turning your sweat into steam instantly.


One key difference in steel and aluminum refining, other than temperature, is the name of the unwanted by-product.  In steel making, it is called slag.  In aluminum making, it is called dross.  Both slag and dross float to the top of the molten metal, the crust that I mentioned above.  The key to refining is to get what you don’t want in the metal to leave, and float away with the slag or dross.


In steel making using scrap, you have such a jumble of stuff in the scrapyard that you could have any sort of impurity in the bath when you melt the scrap down.  Steel is mostly iron, but the different grades of steel can have a lot of other things contained in the crystalline structure.  Some of the common additives are nickel, chromium, and molybdenum, but the key factor is the amount of carbon for the common carbon steels.  Very little carbon lets you change the shape easily, but it can also deform when you don’t want it to deform, like a dent in the car door.  A lot of carbon, about 0.8 to 1.0%, gives you a hard steel that resists bending, like a railroad rails or a bed frame.  More than one percent carbon, the steel becomes even harder, but so brittle that it requires special handling.  Sometimes you want the steel to be unbending, other times you want it to give a little.


So, what if you have too much carbon?  Carbon burns.  Molten metal is hot, so just add oxygen and burn the carbon away.  Actually, pig iron, or roughly the iron from a blast furnace, might have 4 to 5% carbon.  Adding oxygen is almost always required.  The resulting carbon dioxide bubbles out of the molten bath.  Of course, if you add too much oxygen, you must get rid of that too.  At the ladle heat treatment facility (where I was taking my pictures that day), aluminum is added.  Aluminum ‘burns’, reacting with the oxygen bubbles in the molten steel, forming aluminum oxide, which floats to the surface.


To get rid of other impurities and add the necessary stuff to achieve a certain grade of steel, one additive is added or another.  If the bond energy of the offending metal is weak enough, the good alloying material will exchange itself for the bad.  It is kind of like chelation therapy for getting rid of poisonous metals in the human body.  Overload with the good stuff to replace bad with good.  In the case of molten steel, the bad stuff becomes bonded to something which floats to the surface, becoming part of the slag.


This is a lot of geek speak to say that whatever you don’t want in the steel (or aluminum, or gold) is some how made into something that floats to the surface.  At that point, you can decant one from the other.  You tip the furnace in one direction to skim off the floating gunk, and then tip the furnace in the other direction to remove the refined steel.  (In aluminum making, they usually use skimmers {think huge garden rakes} to skim the dross off the surface.)  The photograph is of a ladle pouring out the steel at hotter than 3000◦F.  The ladle is smaller but like the one I nearly fell into.


So, Peter writes that we are being refined by fire during our suffering and trials, just as gold is refined by fire.  He mentions that we are more precious than gold.  Gold is about $1300 per ounce.  Scientists would tell you that the human body of average size is worth about $4.50.  About a dollar for everything other than the skin.


But scientists can’t measure the soul.


People knew how to refine gold in Peter’s time.  They could relate to his analogy.  If you went to SE Asia today, you can find a lot of common people who refine gold (sometimes not very safely), and some of their gold jewelry can be 23 carat or more pure (24 carat is pure gold).  My wife has a necklace with a little tiger pendant, at about 23.5 carat.  It’s not very heavy, but in gold weight, the necklace is probably worth more than I paid for it.  Like the nearly pure iron, pure gold is soft and can bend or break easily.  She is very careful when she wears it.


Peter was saying that as God refines us, He finds the sin (or impurities) in our life and He bubbles them up to the surface so that they can be skimmed off.  It requires a lot of heat.  It requires a lot of sacrifice.  The skimming or decanting process might be painful.  One thing might have to be traded for another (like the chelation process).  Each time we are faced with sin in our lives, we repent of that sin.  We turn from that sin.  We let that sin float to the surface, so that it can be removed from our lives.


Peter says that we must rejoice at this point.  God has allowed us to suffer through great trials, but in the end, we come out of the trial just a little purer than we were before.


I am no where near pure, far from it.  But I desire to be more like Jesus.  So, I rejoice when I am subjected to yet another trial.  I might moan about the pain at times.  (My wife would say, “He moans a lot!”)  But I know that the pain is only temporary, and I await my heavenly reward.  And what did Peter say about each trial?  Our refining may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”


Soli Deo Gloria.  Glory to God Alone.



Add yours →

  1. I love this example! I think when we are in the midst of refining, we lose sight of its purpose. God knows we need it and we will be better suited for heaven through it.

    Liked by 1 person

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