“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.” —Daniel 3:17-18
Math was never my favorite subject in school. I always gravitated to history and literature, to stories about people. The layers of human character and identity fascinated me. Learning about interactions between people and groups was endlessly compelling. (I never got far enough along in math to encounter the wonder and creativity that I’m sure exists in that subject, too.)
And yet despite those preferences there’s a part of me that wants God to be more like a math equation and less like a person, less like a character with agency and freedom. I want to know with certainty that if X happens, God will do Y. But that’s not how it works.
When the nation of Israel was conquered and many of its people taken into exile in Babylon, individual men and women with agency and freedom were forced to make choices within new constraints and in the face of new threats. The king of Babylon set up a golden image—an idol—and commanded that all people worship it. Three faithful Jews—members of the nation of Israel—refused to do so, knowing that their God had commanded them not to worship “other gods.” These three had been given significant responsibilities in the Babylonian Empire, but this did not exempt them from the king’s order. When they persisted in refusing to disobey God, the king ordered that they be burned to death.
Their response—today’s verses—is a model of faith in God. They believe that God will rescue them. But they also recognize that God is not a math equation. We can be sure of God’s faithfulness, but not sure how that faithfulness will play out in a specific situation. There are times when people of faith aren’t given what they want, and times when God doesn’t seem to come through. But those who have a relationship with God trust him even when they do not get what they want—or even get what it seems obvious that they need. Commitment to God means committing to his true way even when we can’t see the immediate payoff in our own lives. Faith is proved when we follow him into the darkness even when we can’t see the light on the other side.
These three faithful men were rescued from the fire. But even if they had not been, they would have rested secure in their trust in God’s way. This is faith in the living God.