Oh, the things we teach our kids! Children’s ministry as I, at least, recall was spattered with stories of fear, violence, and war. I remember exactly where and when I first heard the story of the fiery furnace and the impossible-to-pronounce names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So, what does this tale of imperial power, brutal execution, and miraculous deliverance have to say to us today? I have to say that’s a thought that has occupied my mind quite a bit this week.
What do you think?
I would love to hear what you think God is saying about himself, ourselves, and this world through this story. Let us know in the usual ways and on the live chat on Sunday. No doubt you will have some great and helpful insights that I have missed. To be honest I have found myself pulled to one extraordinary statement in Daniel 3:18
18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Of course, this is a story of miraculous deliverance, of God’s ability to rescue his people from peril and to show himself more powerful than the gods and governments of humanity. However, it’s also a story that admits the possibility that God will not deliver or guard us from danger. It is the story of the faith of those who committed to trust God “even if he does not”.
My head and heart have also been with the half dozen families whom I know, who, this week, are walking the hard path of bereavement and grief. If this text says anything to us it is that loyalty to God is not a free pass to avoid adversity. On the contrary, it suggests that the chances of suffering and conflict with a society that presses us to conform to its ways are higher when we follow Christ.
Suffering is everywhere: pernicious, pervasive, and unavoidable. The furnace of adversity is no respecter of persons and no matter how we try we will not be able to keep the flame of affliction at bay. Suffering will one day cross the threshold of all our lives to one degree or another.
Our three heroes have much to tell us, but the simplest point is the most profound. In adversity, they placed their trust in God, full stop. Not God’s rescue, nor even God’s miraculous power. Their faith placed them entirely in the hands of God – “even if”, whatever the outcome. All options and outcomes were covered, by faith in God himself.
As Tim Keller says:
“their greatest joy was to honour God, not to use God to get what they wanted in life and as result they were fearless”
Opening our eyes
No doubt we will face adversities that cannot be fixed, where our desired outcome fails to materialise and our prayers remain unanswered. Yet the scriptures say it and I have certainly seen it, that in adversity we can expect God’s personal presence to surpass his deliverance. In our darkest hour, the Lord gives himself to us more fully than ever. He promises that we may find him and be pulled closer to him, even in the fire. The three men are seen to be accompanied by a fourth figure in the flames.
May each of our eyes be opened so that when we find ourselves in the furnace of adversity we would see and trust the presence of the one who promises that when we pass through the waters he will be with us and when we walk through the fire it will not consume us.