—to intensify; make denser, stronger, or purer
—to make less dilute
The processing and refining of copper ore is called beneficiation. I like that the word itself speaks of betterment. It is a long and aggressive process, full of necessary, transformative steps. The procedure’s overall goal is to separate extracted ore into two groups: mineral and gangue (commercially worthless material closely mixed with an ore deposit). Through beneficiation the ore is crushed, sorted, and put through subsequent refining processes, like froth flotation and smelting. All of this in order to separate the substance that is valuable from the valueless. Copper ore often contains only a small percentage of metal bound up in mostly unwanted rock.
The first step is comminution, where an average particle size is reduced to a smaller size by crushing or grinding. This begins to free useful materials from the matrix in which they are imbedded, slowly concentrating the sought-after minerals.
Then, the ore is treated in a water-filled tank, and with the help of chemicals and air bubbles, the copper particles are conducted to the surface, where they form a froth and are skimmed off. More of the unwanted materials sink to the bottom of the tank and are discarded.
Smelting is one of the final steps, where the ore is refined in a furnace. This eliminates much of the remaining gangue, making a material called blister that’s around 96% copper. There are further chemical and electrical stages that get it close to 100%.
The refinement process was simpler in the past, mainly only using the smelting stage. In Deuteronomy 8:9, God describes the promise land as “a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper.” But the available reserves now are less dense, and new technology provides cheaper and more efficient (although more complicated) methods.
Just like the tightly bound, diluted copper ore that remains in the earth, perhaps we now more than ever require a robust refining process. Although hard to swallow, much of what we are is worthless to God, although He can clearly see the glinty specks of potential, and He best understands the needed spiritual beneficiation.
I am reminded of Paul and his description of events in 2 Corinthians 11:25. Among other things, he was stoned (comminution) and shipwrecked (froth flotation). And 1 Peter 1:6-7 says, “These trials will show that our faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold…”
Just as we are to become continually more concentrated by obeying God, He promises concentrated blessings for our efforts. Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap…” As His concentration is much purer and more complete than ours can ever be in this life, we can only begin to glimpse what this promise means. Our physical lives will always include gangue bits of unrighteousness, but we daily strive toward a time when all of that will simply fall away.