I have always loved working with my hands. I don’t really care what kind of material I’m working with, whether it’s wood, clay, stone, or steel; crafting something from raw materials has always fascinated me. I am told that somewhere in my ancestral line I have a relative who was a blacksmith, which may be why I feel a special allure towards forging steel in fire.
Forging is the process of shaping metals by heating and then hammering them into tools, knives, axes, and other useful implements. Almost all of our tools, car parts, and other steel instruments are forged in large factories using power hammers and presses. Prior to the industrial age and its large factories, virtually all metal instruments had to be hand-forged. This is the process of using manual techniques, brute strength, and skillful manipulation of a heavy hammer against an anvil to shape it.
Once the basic shape is achieved, the steel must be heat-treated to increase its hardness and durability. Quench-hardening is done by bringing the metal to a high heat and then rapidly cooling it by plunging it in oil, water, or molten salt. Once hardened, the craftsman must then anneal the object, which is the process of reheating and slowly cooling it so that internal stresses are removed, reducing its brittleness while maintaining its strength. Lastly, in the case of a bladed object, the metalsmith spends many hours grinding, polishing, and honing the blade for a finish sharpness.
As I’ve studied metalworking, I have come to see many parallels between the hand-forging process and spiritual growth. Like the raw iron, we must yield ourselves to God’s desire to shape and form us into objects for His glory. To achieve this, we are oftentimes placed into the furnace of life where we undergo adversity, like steel in the flames. It is only when we submit to the disciplining process that we can be shaped under His skillful hand.
It isn’t that God seeks to harm us, but like a loving Father, it is often the adversities and trials of life that allow Him to discipline us. We are also subjected to times of intense heat followed by a cold quenching so that we can become hardened and durable, building an ability to persevere through all kinds of situations; we must also undergo an annealing-like process so that our internal character flaws are removed. This allows us to have the strength to endure and not break under pressure. In the course of time, if we persevere, we are hardened but not brittle, strong yet flexible, and changed from raw materials into a thing of beauty and usefulness.
The forging process is very difficult and time-consuming. We must patiently endure as we are forged in fire so that when we finally exit God’s workshop, we have become objects suitable for the Master’s use, objects of great utility and beauty to His praise and glory.
2 Corinthians 5:5 (NIV)
Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God…