It was around 9:25 pm.
The restaurant was beginning to die down as people left their crumpled dollar bills on the table and hurried out the door. I could hear the ringing of the bell chimes near the exit clanging in excitement and the sudden gush of cool air that came with every “thank you, come back again…”
My pastor sat across from me as I looked down at my empty plate and traced the intricate designs on the side with my eyes. Our meet up was just about over for the night, yet I wasn’t quite satisfied with the answers that I was hearing.
“God doesn’t promise me anything. He doesn’t say that I’ll be okay…not in this life at least,” I said firmly. Although quiet, my voice remained steady and firm with contempt. “He doesn’t promise that I wont relapse and that I won’t end up like my classmate at the railroad tracks. Not knowing if I’ll be okay or not is too hard for me to accept.”
To be honest, I don’t remember what he said in response. I’m sure it was nothing short of profound, but my stubborn and hardened heart refused to hear what I had already deemed grievously unfair. If God had made a public declaration of His love for me at the cross, why then did my life and all of its events seem so unfortunately random and harsh?
It all seemed to be cruel and unjust punishment; but the reality I was in need of seeing was this: the point of life is not to come out of it unscathed. The promise of God is not a guarantee of a peaceful eighty years on Earth – not to be confused with His grace and mercy. The promise of God is not for this life, but the next. Eternal life with Him in the New Heaven and the New Earth.
That fiery furnace may burn or it may just look deathly, but we can live knowing that even if the fiery furnace burns, we will endure.
Not by our own will, but by the beautiful unchanging promise of our God that will meet us at the end with open arms:
Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.
– Matthew 25: 21
Even if we do not get saved in the worldly sense as Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego were, we are undeniably and lovingly saved in the eternal sense. So though it burns and our flesh is pierced in unbearable agony, our promise is certain.
God sees. He hears and He vows that this pain will not last forever. For this we know, “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen and establish you” [1 Peter 5:10, ESV]. We can be comforted by the deep joy of the good news Christ brings and the secure peace of our salvation that cannot be ripped from us. There is an undeniable tranquility in knowing that Christ’s suffering has become the ultimate atonement; therefore, our suffering can never truly quash us, it can never truly cripple us or leave us further from the grip of our God. The flames of Hell did burn and it consumed the very flesh of a man hung on a tree with blood dripping from his brow. Christ felt every single bit of eternity from that Hell-ish flame, and by doing so, guaranteed that even the hairs on our arm would never feel the slightest singe or the ever pressing heat.
Do you believe that the Lord is your portion and your strength forever [Lamentations 3:24]? Do you know that your God is capable of taking away your sorrows and pain in the blink of an eye [Revelation 21:4]?
The honest truth that I did not want to hear at the time, but desperately needed to understand was that who I was, who I am now and who I will be is undeserving of everything. Left to my own devices, I deserve only eternal separation from God and the flames of Hell. I should rightly be put to death, yet I am given life. I wake another day to find a body fit enough to run, to complete my daily activities and to laugh. This is all grace.
Now this is not to say that every terrible affliction need only be countered by the mindset above, (for God grieves with us in our sufferings) but it exists as a necessary understanding of our inherently depraved nature. If we do not establish our reality as one of sinful beings resting completely in the will of God, then we will rot and wither in the false illusion of entitlement and privilege. The words of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego still ring true thousands of years later:
…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace…but if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.
– Daniel 3: 17-18
No matter how true this bold statement is, the “if not,” scares us deeply. God is able when we are severely disable, and yet, He may or may not answer our prayers in the way we’d like. Therefore, we must rest in His promise; even if the fiery furnace burns, we are not succumbed to its flames forever. Even if the worst occurs, we “know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” [Romans 8:28, ESV]. Though its heat is unbearable, there will come a day when nothing can scorch our skin or tear us apart limb from limb. We can withstand the burns because we know our Savior’s death will allow us to come out of the furnace alive.
Perhaps not on this side of Heaven, but it surely awaits us.
And so we stand.
Firm and resolute.
Confident in our God that is bigger than the flames. Trusting in Him and the Word that He has given us to continue onward.