“If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.”
Daniel 3: 17-18
To be “steadfast” means to stand firm in doing or believing something at all times and in all circumstances. That means even when things don’t go the way we hope, even when we are disappointed in our circumstances, or even when we are angry at God Himself. Just because I am a priest who celebrates the Divine Liturgy every Sunday and many times not on Sundays, doesn’t mean that I haven’t had times when I have questioned the will of God, or questioned my faith in God. Yes, that’s correct. I can’t say that each time I’ve celebrated the Divine Liturgy I have stood at the altar with the utmost confidence in God or strength in my faith. I hope you won’t think less of me. What I have done is remain steadfast in my presence at the Holy Altar. I have had Liturgies where my mind wasn’t really into it, where my heart wasn’t really into it, where my mind has been filled with negative thoughts, where I have brought outside concerns and stresses into the service and where I have even heard voices in my head (the devil) filling me with doubt about my ministry, my life, and even my faith. One thing I hope I will say to God is that I showed up steadfastly, no matter how I felt about life or about Him.
Today’s verses from Daniel 3 relate to three youths, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, who were Jews (Israelites) living in exile in Babylon, after the fall of Jerusalem. These three men, along with Daniel, became so trusted by the King Nebuchadnezzar that he gave them a lot of authority in the land of Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar one day decided to build a golden statue and commanded that everyone in his land would bow down and worship the statue. And whoever did not would be cast into a fiery furnace. When the horn sounded as the sign that it was time for everyone to fall down and worship the golden statue, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego would not bow down and worship it.
Chaldeans (Babylonians) came forward to the king to tell him that his three trusted servants would not bow down and worship the statue. Nebuchadnezzar was enraged and brought Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago before him and demanded that they worship his golden statue. He threatened to cast them into the fiery furnace if they would not. The three men stood steadfast and refused to worship the golden statue. They said to the king:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:16-18)
These three men clung to a belief in God that was unwavering. They believed that God could deliver them from the fiery furnace. However, even if God decided not to deliver them, and allowed them to die in the furnace, they were still going to trust God and not bow down to the golden statue.
While we may not understand God’s will, and while His will may not match our will, do we stand steadfast in our belief in God and our worship of Him? Again, this is what faith is. Will we stand steadfast with God even as portions of our lives do not go the way we wish they were going, as we struggle to carry crosses we wish we did not have to carry. Sure it is easy to stand with God when everything is going right. But would we remain steadfast in a financial crisis, a health crisis, the breakdown of a family or any of the other myriad of challenges that happen in a normal life?
Making this even more complicated, we live in a world that is fast-approaching the insanity of King Nebuchadnezzar and his golden statue. We are being told (or shortly may be told) that we have to accept certain ideas that are not consistent with Christian beliefs or the teaching of Scripture or risk being “cancelled” by the “fiery furnace” of media, social media and politics. Will we stand steadfast with Christianity, Scripture and the righteousness of God even if it brings some negative consequences? This is faith.
The example of the three youths is certainly an example for today. Their faith and confidence to articulate it are commendable. Their steadfast faith, even if God allowed them to be killed in the fiery furnace, is the faith we should all hope to have. There are lots of things in my life that are hard to understand, why God allows certain things to happen. No one is threatening to kill me in a fiery furnace today. In fact, sometimes my enemy is my own thoughts, and thoughts and doubts that the devil intermingles with my thoughts. And this is where I personally have to stand and be steadfast—even though God might not deliver me from the things that come to mind with these thoughts. Even if these nightmare thoughts come true, I have to remain steadfast and hope that God’s might and God’s mercy will carry me through this life and into eternal life. Even if every day of this life is a challenge, I have to remain steadfast that continuing to be faithful in this life will bring me to everlasting life. My spiritual father has told me that everyone has a path to sainthood. The three youths of Babylon understood that. They said they would remain steadfast even if their path led to death in a fiery furnace. Using this example, I will remain steadfast in standing at the altar and dealing with my crosses and my challenges; I encourage you to do the same.
The army of the Angels appearing silenced the song of shepherds pipes. And the Angel uttered, Stop in the field abiding, O you the governors of animals. Cry out in exaltation, for Christ the Lord has been born today. It is His will to save the human race, as God, in His good pleasure. (Kathisma, Forefeast of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Personal Reflection Point: Consider the phrase “but if not” in this verse. Do we give God this kind of freedom in our lives?