Lessons from Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego
Faith is hard. It cannot be quantified, it defies logic, and it requires belief in what cannot be seen. In fact, Hebrews 11:1 (NASB) pretty much says it all:
“ Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Simply put, if a thing can be proven, it does not require faith. This is elementary. Even Merriam-Webster defines faith using words like belief, trust, and allegiance. Proof is not mentioned.
Of course, some things make faith easier. When we pray and God seems to answer “yes,” it’s easy to have faith. When that windfall comes, it’s pretty easy to have faith. When the report from the doctor is good, faith abounds. Or, even if the report is not good, if everything turns out favorably, faith comes easily.
But what do we do when things don’t go well? What do we do when God seems silent? How can I have faith when I pray that God will do something…and He doesn’t?
That takes an extraordinary faith
To have faith in a God who might not always do what we think He should do is a challenge. I know sometimes when I’m in a bind or facing a crisis, and God doesn’t step in the way I hoped, I need to evaluate where my faith really is. And often, I am reminded of three guys with funny names:
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. Those weren’t the names they were given at birth. They had been captured by the Babylonians, and their new masters gave them those names. They were captured and made servants during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar. Boy, I used to wish people were named Bob and Susan when I was little and we had to read out loud in Sunday school!
King Neb, as I’ll call him, had a big ego. Like many leaders we have seen throughout history, the narcissism was strong with this one. In fact, he had a huge statue built, and he decreed that everyone in the land should bow down before the statue. That’s right, he wanted them to consider him their god. And there would be pretty dire punishment for anyone who didn’t.
Now, back in these days, punishments were creative. There were no “time outs” or probation or slaps on the wrist. There were swift corporal punishments and executions. In this case, whoever didn’t worship King Neb would be thrown into a furnace and burned alive. And the furnace had no cable, either (smile).
Now, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego loved Jehovah God. They were faithful to their faith. They were not about to bow down to any other God, much less a man with a massive ego who was doing all sorts of evil things.
We call people who are willing to die for their faith martyrs in this type of case, like Joan of Arc or John the Baptist.
In this story, Neb actually sort of liked the three men. Even though they were slaves taken against their will from their home country, they worked hard and were exemplary men. That is a whole other topic, actually, the fact that they lived true to their values even when treated unfairly. Anyway, Neb wanted to give them one last chance.
Now if you are ready, at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery and bagpipe and all kinds of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, very well. But if you do not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands? (Daniel 3:15, NASB)
So these three men are standing in the king’s court, and Neb has made his intentions clear: bow or die. And look at his ego: “What god is there who can deliver you out of my hands?” Talk about throwing down the gauntlet!
I remember hearing about the young girl killed in Columbine who was asked if she believed in God. She said yes.
I remember being amazed that someone so young was so brave. How many of us would stand strong in the midst of certain death? Well, these three men did. Their answer was firm and clear.
“Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’” (Daniel 3:16-18, NASB)
It’s a bold stand of faith, but one phrase strikes me right in the gut
“…even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
Even if God did not deliver them, their faith would not waver. Even if they were thrown into the furnace, they would not compromise.
And that is exactly what happened. King Neb had them thrown in the furnace. It probably wasn’t a surprise to the three men. It had happened before. They knew what was likely going to happen, and they were faithful. In fact, they made it clear that their faith would remain in God no matter what He did or did not do in that particular situation.
What about us?
Do we have that kind of faith, or do we expect God to work within our parameters to be “worthy” of our belief and worship? I have to believe that part of the reason that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-bego were able to withstand such a threat was because they understood that God was bigger than the king, the furnace, and even the span of their own lives. God had a bigger picture in mind.
I have two dear friends who spent much of their adult lives in the Christian faith. They were solid, they attended strong churches, they were unashamed in their faith. Both of them had children who, as babies, were diagnosed with life-threatening heart defects. Both of their children were in critical condition, both endured multiple surgeries. Both of these babies, as young children, faced uncertain futures. I can’t imagine how frightening that would be.
My friend June talked about how faithful God was. She saw God’s hand in the fact that the doctors caught it. She saw his hand in the fact that they were close to a renowned hospital. She saw God’s faithfulness every time a surgery was successful. Her child is a young adult now and is practicing in the medical field. She calls him a miracle.
My friend John raged at God. It wasn’t fair that God allowed his child to be so ill. After all, John had been a faithful Christian for so long, why was he subjected to something like this? Every required surgery and difficult day was a reminder that God had abandoned him. Eventually, John declared himself an atheist. John’s son is also a young adult, a college graduate, working in his chosen field.
So what happened? What was the difference?
These were both faithful believers. And what would I do? How would I respond? I confess I have been in both camps. There have been times I have trusted God in the storm, and there have been times I have raged at Him when He didn’t rescue me. There have been times I have had an “even if He doesn’t” faith and times I was angry when God didn’t meet my terms.
I think about Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego pretty frequently. I think about them when I worry about one of my children, who is making choices and walking paths I would not have chosen. I think about them when I can’t seem to get caught up with the car payment. I think about them when I find a lump or my father, who is aging, has a stroke.
Will I still have faith if my child continues a path that concerns me, I can’t make the car payment, the lump is cancer, or my father dies before I get to see him again?
I hope so. I pray so. I look back at the other times God didn’t do what I thought He would, and I see now how He had a bigger plan or how He was with me in the pain. I see times that He did rescue me, even when I was the one who put myself in jeopardy.
Like I said, faith is hard. It’s not math. It’s not a formula. It’s not a tangible, concrete concept you can reach out and touch or prove with the scientific method. That is why it is called faith. Faith is the belief in what we cannot see, and the hope and assurance that one day we will.
Faith means I can trust God, “even when He doesn’t” work the way I think He should. Because the God I trust is bigger than I am. I wouldn’t want a God who isn’t.
So what happened to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego? Well, they were tossed into the furnace, a furnace that had been made three times as hot by the king. And then…
Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astounded and stood up in haste; he said to his high officials, ‘Was it not three men we cast bound into the midst of the fire?’ They replied to the king, ‘Certainly, O king.” He said, “Look! I see four men loosed and walking about in the midst of the fire without harm, and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods!’ (Daniel 3:24-25, NASB)
They went into the fire, but they were not alone. And neither are we.