I have often wondered what it would have been like to watch Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as they were thrown into the fiery furnace. They were engulfed in flames but not touched. Not a hair on their heads was singed and they didn’t even smell of smoke. The witnesses observed that “the fire had not any power over the bodies of those men.” (Daniel 3:27) It would have been a shocking, breathtaking, life-altering sight.
But this experience is not limited to Babylonian times. We can witness that same phenomenon ourselves when we see Christians who suffer in their own fiery furnaces yet are not destroyed. The fire has no power over them either. They emerge from the flames more resilient, with greater joy and a stronger faith. Without a hint of bitterness. They love God more, not less, when their health, their livelihoods, and even their very lives are taken.
Why does God allow those flames? We will never fully know why, but in this life we can see a small piece of what God is doing.
Suffering grounds our faith in experience
When I first became a Christian, I was passionate about God. I told everyone I knew about the Lord and his grace. But after several years, my excitement waned. I began pursuing achievement and success harder than I pursued God. Faith still had an important place in my life, but Jesus was not my first love.
I sometimes wondered whether the Christian life was more than duty. Often I was just going through the motions of faith, wondering if I had experienced all there was. It was smooth sailing in spiritually shallow waters.
Then calamity came. In wave after endless wave. After losing my son, losing my health and losing my marriage, my view of a comfortable God and a comfortable life radically changed. I realized there was much more to knowing God than I had ever understood. I went from a largely academic understanding of God to an intimate walk with him that could withstand rough storms.
Reading that God is a comforter is not the same as knowing the comfort of God. Understanding that God is a deliverer is vastly different from experiencing his deliverance. And knowing that Jesus can save cannot be compared with worshiping him as my Savior.
For me, suffering made God real. Because in suffering, pat answers were not enough. It was not enough to read Scripture and learn about God. Checking off the box for my quiet time didn’t help me. I wanted to taste God’s goodness. To experience his comfort. To sense his presence.
So I cried out to God. I begged him for help. I leaned on him in ways that I never had before. And when I did, I experienced a life-giving relationship that I had only read about before.
Watching other believers suffer well encourages the saints
When I was struggling, it was encouraging to see and hear from people who had suffered. Who loved God and drew close to him in their pain. I desperately needed to see that it was possible to be thrown into the fire and not be destroyed.
Their examples gave me courage to press on. When my world fell apart, I wanted to see that joy could exist even in great suffering. I needed to see that others had walked difficult paths and emerged whole.
Those were the people I wanted to talk to. And those were the stories I wanted to read about. That’s why Christian biographies are so powerful. They put flesh on our theology. We can see what it means to serve God in the trials of life.
AW Tozer said, “Next to the Holy Scriptures, the greatest aid to the life of faith may be Christian biographies.” I completely agree. When I read biographies, I see faith lived out. I see both the triumphs and the failures of people who trusted God. And when I see what God can accomplish through frail and often faltering saints, I dare to believe that he can use me too.
For unbelievers, watching Christians suffer brings theology to life.
Seeing faith lived out in the midst of suffering can be astonishing to unbelievers. Rather than being told, they are being shown the beauty of faith. One of the first principles of writing is, “Show me, don’t tell me,” which is important in sharing the gospel as well.
The world is full of people talking about God. But talk alone is not enough. The Pharisees were excellent at telling people about God and how to live a righteous life. But as Jesus pointed out, they preached but did not practice. So their words had little impact.
When suffering Christians speak of hope and trust in a sovereign God, their words are credible and convincing. Their faith is not theoretical anymore. It becomes intensely practical.
No one is shielded from suffering. Not in this life. In the world we will have tribulation. The same sun beats down upon the righteous and the unrighteous. All of us face the same struggles. Death, disease, disability. Shattered relationships and shattered dreams. All of the byproducts of our sin-ravaged world. But in Christ we can have peace because he has overcome the world. He alone can give us joy in the midst of sorrow and hope in the midst of despair.
Suffering makes faith three-dimensional
Trials make the faith of Christians three-dimensional. For sufferers, it makes their relationship with God more real and deep and life-giving. For Christians watching other believers suffer, it gives them hope to press on in their own struggles. And for the watching world, it gives them a front row seat to the power of God at work.
Our skeptical world needs to be shown the sustaining grace of God. Merely telling them isn’t enough. For when others see true faith lived out, they cannot help but be amazed. Just like those watching Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who worshipped God because “no other god is able to rescue in this way.” (Daniel 3:29).
When believers walk through the fiery furnace and it has no power over them, their faith is strengthened, onlookers are startled and doubters are converted. And all the glory goes to God. For he alone sustains us in the fire.