This week our small group looked at Daniel 3 and it was quite a time.
The lesson encouraged us to consider ourselves in light of King Nebuchadnezzar. This is something I have never really done. Nebuchadnezzar is the bad guy, the crazy guy, the anger–filled, worship–me pagan polytheistic despot. He’s inconsistent and a flip-flopper. I don’t like to consider how I might be like him. I’m not asking people to worship me, and I’m not throwing people into the fire.
To my surprise, the group didn’t have any problems identifying with him. In the discussion, people animatedly talked of the kind of structures we build for ourselves, how we want to be in control and worshiped (or at least obeyed) by those over whom we have control.
When we are confronted with someone who doesn’t go along with our ways, sometimes we get angry. Maybe it’s not seven-times-the-heat angry, but we aren’t welcoming to people who disagree, who dare to worship and think about God or church or life differently—perhaps even more rightly—than we do. Why don’t they do things our way? The way we want. Don’t they know that we know best Nebuchadnezzar’s judgment found them guilty, defiant lawbreakers who needed to be thrown into the fire.
I had never really considered myself to be a little Neb, so now, I stand corrected, and a little humbled, and not a little embarrassed at the smallness of the realms we hold on to.
Yet the real humility comes when I compare myself to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
So then our talk turned toward the furnace, and how the three young people defiantly and steadfastly stood strong and walked toward the furnace. Those taking them to the furnace perished in the heat. That was one hot fire. Still, they walked to the furnace and stepped into it.
What we face is not the literal furnace fire that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego faced. Instead, it’s the challenge of life itself answering the prayer of Jesus, “not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (John 17:15). To be steadfast and trust that God himself is protecting us along the way even when it doesn’t go our way.
And I think about how much easier, more organically me it is to stoke the furnace in judgment of those not like me than it is to step into the furnace of faith itself.
So then I think about people I know or know of who are in their own kind of furnaces.
How do Yousaf and Ruth stand firm? After enduring persecution in their homeland, moving here and now facing the mystery and pain of their daughter’s condition?
Or Ash and Katrina enduring the multiple surgeries of their young son?
Or Nancy who faced a surgery for her daughter and a devastating house fire at the very same time. (You can read that story here.)
What about pastors and other church leaders in Sudan who were arrested for not submitting to a government directive to hand over their churches to government control.
Then there’s Andrew Brunson who has been held in a Turkish prison for nearly a year and appears to be held as a bargaining chip by Turkey in their desire for the U. S. to extradite a Muslim cleric they don’t like who’s living in Pennsylvania. NPR reported the president of Turkey saying just a couple days ago, "You have a pastor, too. You give us that one and we'll work with our judiciary and give back yours."
How can it be that someone so devoted to the care of a people not his own is imprisoned and treated like chattel in some kind of global trade?
I know that God is sovereign, that none of this happens without his knowledge. We haven’t reached the end of the story. I believe that God’s power is made manifest in our weaknesses. When Nebuchadnezzar saw the miraculous preservation of the three young people in the fiery furnace, he saw himself and God in a new light. He was amazed.
How can people see God in such things? Somehow, I think it’s God doing stuff in us that we can’t possibly do ourselves that speaks in ways we can’t.
So whatever paths we walk today, let’s pray for the fortitude to be faithful as we walk toward the furnace and look forward to when we emerge from it impossibly and miraculously unsinged.