A couple months ago I heard the story of the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel in the Bible (chapter 3). The story tells of King Nebuchadnezzar who built a tall golden statue that he ordered his people to worship. If they did not worship it he would throw them into a hot furnace to be burned to death. Yet the Jews in the king’s region refused. Along with other Jews, Azariah was thrown into the furnace. But he stood up amidst the flames and began to praise God. Just then God sent an angel to save them. The scripture says, “The angel of the Lord went down into the furnace with Azariah and his companions, drove the fiery flames out of the furnace and made the inside of the furnace as though a dew-laden breeze were blowing through it. The fire in no way touched them or caused them pain or harm.” (Daniel 3:49-50)
What caught me was not that the men’s lives were saved but that the angel went inside the furnace to be with them. The angel did not save them from a distance. The angel first dwelt with them. There is great power in presence! It’s the presence of God we are still celebrating this Christmas season: God coming to dwell with us, not save us from a distant realm. A face-to-face meeting is more meaningful than a phone call. Thanks, God for not phoning it in.
As a hospital chaplain I learned that the most meaningful healing came not in fixing the problem but in my compassionate presence. Consider Mary and John at the foot of Jesus’ cross. Neither of them could fix what was happening but they remained steadfast and committed to him by their presence.
Let’s be mad together
I’m reminded of an episode of the TV programme Parenthood that aired last fall. Kristina’s son Max has Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, in which he cannot always make the best social judgements. After taking a candid photo for the yearbook of a high school classmate crying he is removed from photography responsibilities and instead placed on yearbook layout.
One evening he is complaining to his mother that the change is not fair. His mother tries to explain that he will learn that life is not always fair, but he’s not taking it. He says he’s really mad about this. Kristina, who usually advocates for Max and tries to fix things for him, takes a breath and says, “You know what, I’m really mad about this, too. I’m so mad about this. So we’re just going to sit here and be mad together.” As the camera zooms back slowly we see them silent, sitting together in the unfairness, in the anger.
God is not always the Great Problem Solver. God’s role is not necessarily to fix all our problems, but God is indeed the Great Companion. In times of joy and sorrow, peace and struggle, God sits with us in our emotions and feels them along with us. Jesus modelled this on the cross and in his life, experiencing human challenges with us. The name Emmanuel does not just mean “God with us” in a physical way. “God with us” means suffering with us, laughing with us, lamenting with us, and smiling with us.
Kristina gave Max one of the best gifts: letting Max know that he’s not alone in his feelings. He’s got someone who loves him dearly. Azariah also knew he was not alone; God was with him in the fiery furnace. And God is with us too, in every moment of our lives.
>> Let God feel and experience your feelings and emotions in the Evening Examen.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod