Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought in; so they brought those men before the king. Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, O Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods and you do not worship the golden statue that I have set up? Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?’ Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defence to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.’
The resolve of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego resonates with my own experience and articulates my own faith. It is also, I suggest, a resolve that has echoes of our Dissenting spirit.
Firstly, it affirms faith and confidence in the power of the God who “is able to deliver”. Faced with the prospect of the furnace of blazing fire the faith of these three is that God is greater than the flames and is therefore able to deliver them. In common with the Dissenters they affirm that God is also greater than any human king and can deliver them from such.
Secondly, it concedes an “if not”. It is one thing for us to affirm that God “is able” but many of us have had to wrestle with the anguish of instances where despite faith and prayer the desired result has not been the outcome. Hopes may have been raised but, humanly speaking, disappointment has come and faith has been dented. Some of us are even tempted to change “if not” to “when not”.
Thirdly, however, the resolve of these three is that they will hold on to faith – for which, perhaps, read “trust that God holds on to them” – even if not. The fiery furnace of daily life blazes and some do not escape its flames. Their resolve is echoed in the prayer of Jesus in Gethsemane as he is about to be thrown into the furnace of Calvary: “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” (Mark 14: 36)
If faith is held on the condition that God rescues us from every furnace it is likely to be short-lived. The resolve of the three – and the One – is that even “if not” we will keep faith and, thereby, discover in the flames and on the Cross that God is with us.
God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, grant us sufficient faith and trust when the furnace of blazing fire threatens to consume us or those we love. God made known in the One who was obedient to the point of death, when the cup of suffering is not removed – for us or for those we love – grant us and them the strength to carry on and an awareness that we are not alone and bereft but upheld and enabled by your grace. Amen.
The Rev’d Geoffrey Clarke, Minister, The Crossing (Methodist & United Reformed Church) & Wales Kiveton Methodist Church.