Hello, fellow furnace dwellers.
Have you been going through some fiery trials?
Yeah, me too.
Mine started in February when my husband, Chuck, was involved in a car accident that shattered a vertebrae in his spine. He had a successful surgery, but coded days later. He died Feb. 28, two days after his 50th birthday.
While he was in the hospital, it seemed as if I was in a furnace of trouble and heartache.
But I noticed something.
I wasn’t in that furnace alone.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Bible story of a fiery furnace, you’re probably wondering what I’m talking about.
Please let me explain.
In the Old Testament, there is the account of three Israelite men: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They were taken into captivity by the powerful Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. At one point, the king has a gold, 90-foot-tall statue of himself made and set up in his country.
The king orders that everyone bow down and worship that statue. Those who don’t will be thrown into a blazing furnace.
Guess who doesn’t bow down? Yep, our three Israelite friends.
The king is furious when he finds out. He orders the men to bow, but instead gets this faith-fueled answer: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from your majesty’s hand. 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.”
Nebuchadnezzar is really mad now and orders that the furnace be heated seven times hotter. He commands some of his strongest soldiers to tie up the fully clothed Israelites and throw them in the furnace. The furnace is so hot that it kills the soldiers. The three, firmly tied Israelites fall into the blazing furnace.
Then something amazing happens. The king leaps to his feet.
“Weren’t there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?” he asks his advisers.
Everyone agrees the king’s math is correct.
“Look,” he says. “I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.”
Nebuchadnezzar orders our three friends out of the furnace.
And the men come out — unharmed. Not a hair on their heads is singed. Their clothing isn’t scorched. There is no fire smell on them.
At the hospital, I often thought how — in so many ways — Christ went to the cross alone, but three men went to the furnace.
How hard would it have been if just one man had to face those flames?
In Ecclesiastics 4:9-10, we read: “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor; If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.”
The three Israelites had God and each other. And I had my furnace mates, too. Besides family and friends, there was a woman whose husband was hospitalized with a serious illness.
There was another woman, probably in her early 20s at best, with a 4-month-old baby. The woman said her mom would be taken off a ventilator if she didn’t show improvement in a couple days. After a few days, I didn’t see that young woman anymore.
Then there was the tall, thin man with the long, gray pony tail and Lynyrd Skynyrd shirt. I was a little afraid of him at first. He was so tall, but I found out he was kind. His 84-year-old mom was in the hospital and his 90-year-old dad wouldn’t leave her side and so their son — this gentle giant — wouldn’t leave either of them.
The man told me his girlfriend had been going through a rough time and didn’t think she could go on.
He wasted no words.
“You come up here to this hospital and I’ll show you what suffering is,” he told her.
We were a band of brothers and sisters in suffering, but I think we took comfort in the fact that we weren’t alone. We understood each other.
Better yet, I know God was there. He was — and always will be — that fourth man in the furnace, the one who doesn’t just look like a son of the gods, but who is God. Some scholars say that fourth man in that long-ago furnace was an angel. Others say it was the preincarnate Christ.
Either way, God stayed with those men and he stays with us, no matter what fiery times we face.
I noticed something else. The Israelites came out of the furnace unbound. Sometimes it takes a fire to burn up things that have us tied up in knots. I saw relationships restored. Hurts that had bound me for years melted in the flames of my furnace. I could almost imagine those ropes of resentment popping off.
In the furnace, you learn what’s important and what’s not. Trusting a loving God, who makes our paths straight and sees the future that we do not, is important. Repeatedly recalling how someone snapped at us 20 years ago is not.
That’s not to say our hurts aren’t important. They are, but the best way to see hurts heal is to keep giving them to God and seeking his direction.
I’m grieving now, but I know God heals and I depend on him for such.
So will I come out of the furnace, not even smelling like smoke? I wonder. I do know that like the Israelites, I will have a story of faith to share.
It’s a story of God, who is strong and faithful and who stands — as long as necessary — with us in life’s fiery furnaces and all other times to come.