The Furnace of Affliction
In the furnace of affliction, God still has His hand on us
In the book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar threw three Hebrew believers – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, – into a fiery furnace. Remember their words in response? “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us out of thine hand.” (Dan. 3:18) Even when they faced the fiery furnace, they stood firm in their faith. The result was that God was with them – literally! Three men were thrown into the furnace, and king Nebuchadnezzar and his counselors saw four: “I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God.” (Dan. 3:25)
A furnace of a different kind
It’s not the first time we read about a furnace in Scripture. Earlier in Isaiah, we’re introduced to a furnace of a different kind: “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.”(Isaiah 48:10) In this passage about God redeeming the Israelites from the Babylonian captivity, we come to understand that even in His refining of us – which more often than not brings us through trials and trying times – God does not deal so rigorously with us that He neglects to show us His mercy. For even in the furnace of affliction, God still has His hand on us. It can be hard to believe when you’re thrown off your feet, but when we cling to our faith, when He is all that we have, we will find that God is with us. In C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain he writes: “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks to us in our consciences, but shouts to us in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
The furnace of affliction has this way of forcing us to look up
The furnace of affliction has this way of forcing us to look up, searching for comfort and seeking relief. Grief, sorrow, sadness, pain – when we are down and out, the best option is to use these times as opportunities to grow. It sounds trite, and when someone says that to you when you’re down, when someone promises that “it will get better,” or “it will get easier,” your first thought may be to say, “You have no idea what I’m going through!” (even when they do). But it does get better, when you go to God’s Word. “For the LORD hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.” (Isaiah 49:13) There is a bittersweet embrace in reading these words and experiencing their truth.
Matthew Henry wrote of this passage in Isaiah that God’s “bringing men into trouble was to do them good,” and as troubling as we may find this, he is right. Even in the furnace of affliction, when we choose to listen to God and obey His commandments, He gives us peace like a river, and He makes our righteousness as waves of the sea – “Come ye near unto me,” God invites us in Isaiah 48:6. In the furnace of affliction, He is with us, and His Word is the place we find Him.