“A People Restored”: The Fiery Furnace
I recently listened to Lynn Olson’s audiobook, Last Hope Island. Olson tells the fascinating story of how political leaders (and some military personnel as well) from all over Europe escaped to England during World War II to continue to fight the Nazis in exile. One story, though, stood out to me above the others.
During one Allied mission, troops parachuted deep behind enemy lines and an General ended up wounded. He was taken to a home and the family took him in for months at great risk of their lives as he recovered. During that time, the military officer came to view his host family as his family—eating with them and sitting with them during their evening reading of the Bible. Not only did the family risk their lives by hiding the General, they went even further and gave him the choicest of their lean provisions, not allowing him to refuse their kindness.
Eventually, the General was smuggled back across the front lines to the Allies and back to England. Months later, in the waning days of the war when the family’s village was liberated, that General went back to see the family he had come to love so much and they enjoyed an extended period of time together just as it had been before, only this time without the threat of imprisonment or death.
It is a beautiful story that my brief retelling cannot do justice to. The compassion and sacrifice of the family that took in a General unknown to them is inspiring. This was a family not looking to become martyrs in a war against oppression, but they were ready to become martyrs if needed. Thankfully, this story had a happy ending, but not all do.
God Has not Promised to Spare Us from Trials
Most of us would likely have to admit that we wish there were some obscure verse somewhere in Scripture that went something like this:
“If you trust in Me,” says the Lord, “you will never again endure hardship, never again face adversity and pain. Surely all of your days will overflow with comfort and ease, and your chocolate will be calorie-free.”
Sure would be nice, wouldn’t it? Most of us (all of us?) want to avoid pain and adversity at all costs. And we want God to shield us from those things too. This is why stories like the one of a family risking everything to protect someone else appeal to us. Deep down, we are convicted by such selflessness and willingness to embrace, rather than flee from, trials. Deep down, we know that our desire for God to exempt us from suffering is not right. That doesn’t mean we seek adversity, but rather that we accept it willingly when it comes.
The truth is that God has never made a promise to shield us from trials. Why would He when He did not exempt the Son from them? Why should we as servants expect a privilege our Master was not granted?
Indeed, the Bible speaks to our suffering far more than our comfort. And, in opposition to our desires, when we do experience long stretches of comfort, it likely means that we are not walking with God—we are failing to follow Him in obedience. Obeying God often means adversity, such as in this week’s story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. We want the story to read differently: that the three friends took a stand for God and as such, God sent balls of fire from heaven to consume their opponents and protect the trio.
But God never made a promise to do that. Sure, He could have, but that would not have been the best for the three friends. What was best for them was a trial.
God Has Promised to Be with Us in Trials
You read that right. It’s not just that we have to accept trials in our lives, but it is more than that; we need to come to appreciate trials for they are often a gift from God. We see this in this week’s session.
Notice the men’s perspective as they face the furnace:
If the God we serve exists, then he can rescue us from the furnace of blazing fire, and he can rescue us from the power of you, the king. But even if he does not rescue us… (Daniel 3:17-18 CSB)
Don’t read past that last phrase. “Even if he does not rescue us.” Let me translate: “Even if God chooses for us to experience a horrible death of being incinerated alive.” That is really what these men meant. They were ready to suffer with no expectation that God would rescue them. They knew He could, but that He would was a different story.
Imagine what it was like for them as they were marched toward the furnace. Every passing step was one fewer chance of rescue. At some point, they resigned themselves to the fact that God would not rescue them from the furnace. God had chosen Option B and the men likely braced themselves for a horrible death.
But then God showed off. God’s desire was not to rescue the men from the fire, but rather to rescue them through the fire. Imagine the amazement of the men as they found themselves standing alive in the fire, as they noticed they were no longer alone. A fourth man—who many believe is pre-incarnate Jesus—was there with them. God has not promised to spare us from trials, but He has promised to be present with us during them (see Matthew 28:20). This is what we see in this account.
Do you see how this trial was the better gift to the three friends? Being spared from the sentence of the furnace would have been great. Being rescued from the furnace would have been even greater. But being rescued in the furnace is the greatest of all. These men experienced God’s power and presence in a heart-racing way. What a gift!
God Will Draw Us to Jesus Through Trials
As beautiful as all of this is, there is one more angle that adds even more to God’s glory. God often uses trials, and more specifically suffering, to draw us closer to Christ. Notice Paul’s desire that he shared with the Philippians:
My goal is to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death, (Philippians 3:10 CSB)
We love that first part. We want to experience resurrection power! But that part really isn’t possible without the second—or at least it is not as beautiful without it. Paul wanted to suffer like Christ suffered. Paul wanted to obey God and be used by Him to the point that he would be opposed. Just as Jesus had been opposed. Paul wanted to emulate Christ completely—and to do so included suffering.
That is another level of God’s kindness in our suffering. When we suffer rightly (not for sin), we are drawn closer to the One who suffered greatly on our behalf. We can better understand what He endured. We can better appreciate what He willingly experience on our behalf. And, in doing so, we too position ourselves, through our suffering, to be used by God for His glory.
God has different purposes for His own, and He shows Himself strong and gains glory in different ways throughout each of our lifetimes. And if He allows suffering in our lives, He does for very specific, very important reasons, and He does not do so lightly!” – Joni Eareckson TadaJoni Eareckson Tada, A Place of Healing (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2010), 70.
Preschool Tip: For our youngest ones, you may want to focus on the brilliant picture of God being present with us at all times. Help them see that they are never alone—that in good times and not so good times, God is with them, caring for them and loving them. Let them find comfort and encouragement in this.
Kids Tip: For kids, especially tweens, be ready to talk more frankly about suffering and adversity. We don’t like to think of our kids suffering, but the reality is that many have and some may be in a time of great suffering this week. Follow the Spirit’s guidance on how to navigate a conversation with them about God having a purpose in our trials—that God has not promised to rescue us from trials, but to be with us in them and use them for His glory.