The lions’ den and fiery furnace are allegories for suffering. But why do we suffer? Suffering can be the consequences of our own wrongdoing, God’s chastening, the devil’s effort to discourage us in our Christian walk, or the consequences of bearing the name of Christ. Quite often, the devil engineers problems in our lives to bring about discouragement, with the hope that we’ll disobey God -- his arch enemy. Yet, through the same suffering, God tests our faith and loyalty toward Him. There are other forms of suffering that come with the environment we live in – a fallen world, in which we become victims to all kinds of sicknesses. No matter the origin of our suffering, we can have victory through Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Suffering is nothing new to the Church. Christians have been persecuted for years, since the beginning of the Church to the present. In recent years, in different parts of the world, Christians have suffered tremendously at the hands of wicked men. They have been driven away from their own homes, their properties confiscated, their children killed right before their eyes, while others have faced beheadings. As Christians, how we respond to suffering should be dictated by its cause.
For instance, God is not honored by suffering that results from our own wrongdoing; in that situation, we need to repent and make restitution where possible. Also, disregarding the law of the land or being insubordinate to superiors or bosses can incur punishment that can be referred to as suffering, but is that really suffering, when you bring it on yourself? The Apostle Peter’s instructions are clear: “If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler” (1 Peter 4:15). Breaking the law has consequences, so if we suffer for breaking the law we shouldn’t be looking for sympathy. Breaking the law causes God’s name to be blasphemed, and brings shame to the Church. Christians should be the most law-abiding citizens, because all authority is set up by God our Father, and rebelling against such is rebelling against God (see Romans 13:1-6).
On other occasions, suffering comes for the simple reason that we bear the name of Christ and seek to please Him. This is the type of suffering that pleases God. It usually comes in the form of persecution, nevertheless, it is honorable, because it proves we are participating in Christ’s suffering (see 1 Peter 4:13). Jesus Himself said, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV). Again He encouraged the disciples, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also … They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me” (John 15:20-21). The apostle Paul reminds us, “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 NIV).
Our attitude towards persecution should be joy: joy that we’ve been counted worthy to suffer for the name of our Lord, and slated for a reward in heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12). In addition, James recommends joy in suffering because the process leads to maturity in Christ (see James 1:1-4).
This is the response God expects of us when we are persecuted: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you” (Luke 6:27-28 NIV). That response would challenge observers and bring glory to God. In the Beatitudes, Jesus admonished his disciples, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 NIV).
Before we can be victorious in the lion’s den or fiery furnace in a God-honoring manner, we need to have a few things settled in our minds:
God’s power, ability, and sovereignty – God is all-powerful, and therefore able to deliver us from all trials and difficulties. However, He is also sovereign, and might not deliver us from every impending or ongoing suffering every time. He does things as He sees fit, differently to different situations at different times. When threatened with the fiery furnace for not worshiping the king’s golden image, the three Jewish young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, told the king, Nebuchadnezzar, “We do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand O king. But even if he does not … we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:16-18 NIV).
Our position in Christ – We are loved by God our Father, and after giving us His Son, the Scripture tells us, there is nothing else that we need that He wouldn’t do for us. So when He doesn’t fix our problems right away, it is for a good reason. After all, we are reminded that, “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV).
We are in an on-going battle – Our enemies-the enemies of God - are like their father the devil. They hate us with “cruel hatred” (from the hymn-A mighty Fortress), and will stop at nothing until they’ve caused havoc. They don’t know how to do good; they consistently plan evil. We need to always remember that we are in an on-going battle, and remain in a perpetual state of readiness (see Ephesians 6:11-18).
When we find ourselves in the lions’ den or fiery furnace, let us arm ourselves with the mindset that our Father is none other than the loving, all-powerful, and sovereign God. He’ll equip us and grant us the grace to do His will. That mindset should encourage us and make us hopeful that when our suffering is over, we will come out on the victory side, because God’s will and purpose for our lives and the Church will have been accomplished for His honor and glory.