In the Holy Bible, the glory of God is symbolized by precious gemstones—sapphire, jasper, sardius, and emerald (Exodus 24: 10; Revelations 4: 3). The purity and brilliance of these gemstones point to some of the essential divine attributes. These gemstones do not emit light of their own. They are not radioactive. They merely manifest the light they receive from external sources in glittering display. When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the tablets of the commandments that God gave him, his face shone and became luminous manifesting the glory of God (Exodus 34: 29-35). The brightness of the glory of God filled the ancient tabernacle of meeting (Exodus 40: 34-35), and the temple of Solomon at its dedication (2 Chronicles 7: 1). At Jesus’ transfiguration on Mount Tabor, the divine glow shone through him (Matthew 17: 2).
Diamonds are invisible in a dark place, as they do not emit light of their own. However, when placed in a lit place, they sparkle with brilliance of many colors as they scatter and project the external light they receive. Similarly, Christian saints do not have glory of their own. The external divine glory of God will shine and sparkle through them as they are conformed to the likeness of the bright image of Christ. In order to reach that lofty level of spiritual growth and maturity, the follower of Christ has to go through various phases of spiritual development.
Nature gives us pointers along the way. What is the natural process that produces a precious sparkling gemstone like the diamond? Most natural diamonds are formed at high pressure and temperature [approximately 900-1,300 °C (1,650-2,370 °F)] at depths of 140 to 190 kilometers (87 to 118 miles) in the Earth's mantle. Carbon-containing minerals provide the carbon source, and the growth occurs over periods from 1 billion to 3.3 billion years (25% to 75% of the age of the Earth). Diamonds are brought close to the Earth's surface by magma of deep volcanic eruptions. Diamonds can also be produced synthetically by a High Pressure High Temperature (HPHT) method which approximately simulates the conditions in the Earth's mantle.
The natural diamond is the hardest known natural material. Diamond’s hardness depends on its purity, crystalline perfection and orientation. Hardness is higher for flawless, pure crystals. Mined rough natural diamonds extracted from their diamond ore are dark dirty stones. They are not attractive and not worth much. They are converted into gems through a multi-step process of cutting and polishing. Diamond cutting is a delicate procedure requiring skills, scientific knowledge, tools and experience. Its final goal is to produce a faceted jewel where the specific angles between the facets would optimize the diamond luster, which results from the dispersion of white light. Diamonds are typically polished slowly using painstaking traditional techniques and paying greater attention to detail than is the case with most other gemstones.
The crucifixion and resurrection of Christ had started the eighth day of creation. The divine economy of that day/age is the renewal and recreation of the fallen creation. At the beginning of his spiritual journey with Christ, the Christian believer has no spiritual attraction or radiance of his own, similar to the rough natural diamonds. Then Christ, the Lord, begins the process of cutting out his sinful passions, purifying his thoughts, and polishing his spiritual virtues by the power of the Holy Spirit. This process may be painful. It involves tribulations and suffering of many kinds over extended periods of time. As this process advances, the believer grows spiritually, and his nature is renewed. He begins to shine the likeness of the image of Christ. He begins to be transformed to a precious spiritual diamond radiating the light of Christ and his glory in this age and in eternity.
God uses trials, afflictions, and sufferings of the Christian believer who walks with Christ to refine, purify and polish his character and develop him spiritually to a high level of spiritual maturity. When fire passes into iron the whole of it becomes fire-like so that what was cold becomes burning and what was black glows bright. Similarly, when the Holy Spirit enters into the very inmost recesses of the human soul it provides a saving fire which burns away the thorns of sin. God is glorified in the suffering of the Christian believer when he transforms the negative of his fallen human nature into the positive of purification and renewal through suffering. “Thus says the Lord of hosts: 'Behold, I will refine them and try them...'” (Jeremiah 9: 7). “He (the Lord) will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver. He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver...” (Malachi 3: 3). "For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory" (2 Corinthians 4: 17). After a long process of refinement, polishing and development for many years, the believer becomes like a glittering hard diamond manifesting the uncreated glory of God in His eternal kingdom.
The Holy Bible provides clear examples of people that went through this process of spiritual development and growth, and emerged triumphant and mature in faith and character. A few examples are cited herein.
The main life events of Joseph, the son of Jacob, are described in Genesis 37 and 39-47: 26. Jacob loved Joseph, the son of his old age and his preferred beloved deceased wife Rachel, more than his other children (Genesis 37: 3-4). Jacob publicly gave Joseph preferential treatment, symbolized in part by the special garment he presented to him (Genesis 37: 3). Therefore, his brothers hated him, conspired against him, and finally sold him into slavery.
Joseph’s trials lasted thirteen long years and encompassed his descent into the cistern (Genesis 37: 24); into Egypt (Gen. 37: 28, 39:1); and into prison (Genesis 39: 20). He went down from the preferred status in his father’s house to the lowest status in society, that of an imprisoned slave. Joseph had not committed any sin that caused his adversities (Genesis 40:15), and he certainly did not understand the rationale behind his trials during those thirteen hard years. Nor did the Lord reveal to him the causes of his hardships! Yet, he remained loyal to the Lord, and his faith did not weaken. He did not rebel against God in the darkest days of his life, and remained faithful to him in adversity (Genesis 39: 9), motivated by his deep trust that God’s will would always ultimately result in good (Genesis 45: 5,7-8; 50: 20). He waited for God’s action in complete submission to the Divine will.
Joseph’s faith passed the test of suffering, and he emerged a mature believer. His faithfulness to God in adversity was rewarded with both material and spiritual blessings (Genesis 41: 40-44; 48: 5-6, 14-20; 49: 22-26; 1 Chronicles 5: 1-2). The Lord elevated Joseph. He set him over all the land of Egypt, second in power only to the Pharaoh of Egypt—the most advanced civilization of his time. Joseph realized that a full comprehension of God’s actions in his life would have to await the final outcome of events. He recognized God’s resourcefulness and the ingenuity of his wisdom. Only after his exaltation in Egypt, did Joseph discern some of the causes of his trials: “…for God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45: 5, 7-8), and “…to save many people alive” (Genesis 50: 20). God, the sovereign Potter, molded a boy pampered by his old father, into a man of faith, compassion, wisdom and responsibility (Jer. 18: 1-6). Joseph’s trials developed his character to the point that God was able to use him to save Jacob’s family as well as the entire population of Egypt and Canaan from perishing in the seven famine years.
At the end, Joseph was transformed into a glittering diamond glowing with multitudes of spiritual virtues—strong faith and trust in the Lord, patience, humility, modesty, wisdom, compassion, tenderness, honesty, forgiveness, responsibility, strength, etc..
Satan had claimed in the heavenly court of God that Job was nothing but a mere mercenary. He did lack love and commitment to God. All Job’s apparent piety was because he desired the vast material rewards of herds of cattle, family, and good health that God poured upon him so generously. His piety was for pay (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5). Satan’s challenge was extremely powerful. God responded to it by allowing Satan to strike Job’s possessions and his health (Job 1:12; 2:6) in order to test and prove the extent of his commitment to, and faith in, the living God. Was it a true and strong commitment, or a weak and superficial one (Job 1:10-11; 2:3-5; 23:10)? However, the whole procedure was under the control of God. Satan was restricted in what he could do (Job 1:12; 2:6). His actions did not preclude the principle that God is in charge.
God wanted to bring Job to the end of himself—to the end of his own self-righteousness, self-vindication and self-wisdom, so that he may find his all in God (Job 40: 1-5). God wanted to bring Job to the point where he surrenders all to God, trusts in Him despite all seeming contradictions, and rests in God Himself, apart from any explanations.
Job passed the test of faith successfully. "When He (God) has tested me, I shall come forth as gold" (Job 23: 10b). He remained loyal to God and did not rebel against Him due to his afflictions (Job 1: 21; 2: 10; 42: 7). He became humble, learned to yield unreservedly to God’s will without questioning (Job 40: 2), and repented of his self-righteousness (Job 42: 6). Job learned to trust the Lord in adversity: “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him” (Job 13: 15). The calamities that had befallen Job opened his eyes and made him learn more about himself and about God. This resulted in the transformation and maturity of his character, for he came forth as gold (Job 23: 10). He became a mature servant of the Lord—a glittering diamond shining the divine glory of God.
The Lord not only blessed Job and restored his losses, but also gave him twice as much as he had before (Job 42: 10, 12-13). Truly, “the end intended by the Lord” (James 5: 11) is gracious.
3. St. Paul’s thorn in the flesh
The apostle Paul, the tireless servant of the Lord, was afflicted with a physical infirmity, the nature of which is not described in the Holy Bible (2 Corinthians 12: 7). However, there are indications that it might have been an eye disease (Galatians 6: 11; 4: 13-15). Irrespective of the nature of his affliction, it bothered him enough that he pleaded with the Lord three times that he might be healed! Paul, who was given the gift of healing the sick, could not cure himself, and the Lord did not grant him his request saying: “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness…” (2 Corinthians 12: 9)! Paul, the man of God, had suffered with his affliction for the rest of his life, until he was martyred.
Several important reasons are provided for the Divine permission of Paul’s affliction:
1. to make him humble and protect him from the sin of pride on account of the visions and revelations he received from God (2 Corinthians 12: 7), and
2. to glorify the Lord’s power in man’s weakness and exhibit the all-sufficiency of God’s grace (2 Corinthians 12: 9), which is thus magnified.
Paul’s faith did not weaken because of his trial, and he did not rebel against the Lord. He accepted God’s will for him, thereby giving us a good example that we should follow. He emerged a mature servant of the Lord—a glittering diamond manifesting the divine glory of God.
4. Wilderness Wandering
Moses sent twelve men to spy out the Promised Land of Canaan and bring some of its fruits before invading it (Numbers 13-14). They returned after forty days with some of its fruits to Moses and the children of Israel in the wilderness of Paran in Northern Sinai. Ten of the spies reported that the inhabitants of the land are so strong that the children of Israel could not defeat them. However, two of the spies, Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, assured the Israelites saying: “If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ Only do not rebel against the Lord, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread. Their protection has departed from them, and the Lord is with us. Do not fear them” (Numbers 14: 8-9). The Israelites rebelled and tried to stone them. The Lord intervened and saved them.
The Lord condemned the rebellious Israelites saying to Moses: “…How long will these people reject Me? And how long will they not believe Me, with all the signs which I have performed among them?” (Numbers 14: 11). He decreed that: “Except for Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun, you shall by no means enter the land which I swore I would make you dwell in. But your little ones, whom you said would be victims, I will bring in, and they shall know the land which you have despised. But as for you, your carcasses shall fall in this wilderness. And your sons shall be shepherds in the wilderness forty years, and bear the brunt of your infidelity, until your carcasses are consumed in the wilderness” (Numbers 14: 30-33). As a result, the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness for forty years unable to conquer the land, until the entire rebellious generation, from twenty years old and above, died out. Afterwards, their offspring took possession of the Promised Land.
The Lord chastened the rebellious Israelites severely for forty years in the harsh environment of the wilderness in order to build their character and strengthen their faith. “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten…” (Revelation 3: 19). A journey, that normally took a few days, took forty years in the desert. During these forty years the Lord built up the faith and character of their offspring in the wilderness in order to prepare them to possess the Promised Land, which points to the eternal kingdom of heaven. The refining and polishing process was not easy. In this case, it took forty years in the unforgiving desert environment “I (the Lord) will bring the one–third through the fire, will refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people.’ And each one will say, ‘The Lord is my God'” (Zechariah 13: 9).
5. The Fiery Furnace (Daniel 3)
The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar set up an image of gold and ordered all the people of his kingdom to fall down and worship it. Three courageous Jewish men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who were exiled to Babylon in the sixth century B.C. refused to worship the golden idol. "Then Nebuchadnezzar was full of fury, and the expression on his face changed toward Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. He spoke and commanded that they heat the furnace seven times more than it was usually heated. And he commanded certain mighty men of valor who were in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, and cast them into the burning fiery furnace. Then these men were bound in their coats, their trousers, their turbans, and their other garments, and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Therefore, because the king’s command was urgent, and the furnace exceedingly hot, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, fell down bound into the midst of the burning fiery furnace. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished; and he rose in haste and spoke, saying to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” “Look!” he answered, “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire; and they are not hurt, and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” Then Nebuchadnezzar went near the mouth of the burning fiery furnace and spoke, saying, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, servants of the Most High God, come out, and come here.” Then Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego came from the midst of the fire" (Daniel 3: 19-27).
The fire of the furnace loosed them from their shackles. They walked freely out of the fire unharmed. After they were purified and freed from their shackles by the test of fire, the king promoted them (Daniel 3: 30), which points to their spiritual advancement and progress.
Christ has said: "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit" (John 15: 1-2). The process of pruning, that enhances the fruitfulness of the tree, entails suffering and effort. Through years of afflictions, tests, and trials, the follower of Christ grows and matures spiritually, and produces the fruits of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5: 22-23). God’s permitted afflictions should be taken in faith as a blessing, not a curse. The apostle Paul said: "I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us" (Romans 8: 18). As the diamond is formed at high pressure and temperature, cut and painstakingly polished to sparkle in the light, the follower of Christ who stays the course grows and matures spiritually through trials and hardships. Through these birth pangs, he is born in the eternal heavenly kingdom—a glittering sparkling spiritual diamond manifesting the glory of God, as he does not have light of his own. The divine glow begins to shine through him eternally.