Where is God when we go into the furnace?
Babylon, in some ways, was similar to many pluralistic nations today. Its leaders recognized the wisdom of tolerating all sorts of different deities in the private sphere, as long as everyone’s allegiance in public–at least nominally–was to the Babylonian gods. In other words, “Worship whatever God or gods you want to on your own time and in your own place, but when you’re in public, be willing to give homage to the gods that we all worship.”
In some ways, our experience is similar. Our nation is remarkably tolerant of a host of varied religious practices, but there’s pressure to keep it private. “Be a Christian, Muslim, Hindu, or whatever you want, but don’t bring it to work or school with you.”
The problem, of course, is that sometimes in the public sphere (at work or school or wherever), our Christian worldview collides in irreconcilable ways with a secular ideology.
So, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, we refuse to bow.
And when that happens, the powers-that-be usually don’t respond well, and believers’ faith is tested. In their response to their testing, we see perhaps three of the most powerful words about faith in the Bible: “But if not . . .”
They said: We know that God is able to deliver us, and we believe that he will, but if not . . . (there’s a good image of true faith there: trusting God even when he might not do what we want him to).
And then the fire: this is, I believe, a theophany, a time when God manifested himself in visible form for a special purpose. Here, it seems, he wanted to communicate his presence in the furnace of testing. God was present in the fire.
All sorts of lessons abound here, but the most important is this: Jesus Christ went into the furnace for us. At the cross he took upon himself the suffering and pain that we’d earned and “descended into hell” (as one of the ancient creeds put it). He went to the realm of the dead and was resurrected the third day so that no matter what happens–no matter what kind of furnaces we face–we can sense his presence and trust that he will bless us in the end.
I hope this text/sermon will encourage us in our walk with Christ as we face both temptation and suffering that living in this world inevitably brings.