You can hear the gasps as word of a sudden death, a dire diagnosis or a catastrophic accident spreads through telephone calls, texts, Internet posts or face to face. Quite naturally, we feel shock and sadness to hear such news.
It is rarely an uncomplicated endeavor to receive information that interrupts our comfortable lives, giving us pause to stop – in our tracks – sidelined momentarily by the unexpected. We struggle to regain our composure, then many of us begin to think of ways that we can offer support.
A young couple with four children, the youngest of which is five months old, recently learned that their two-year-old daughter has leukemia. I reacted accordingly when I heard the news - devastated for them, anxious for the journey they will travel and concerned for how they will manage through the unthinkable and the unknowable.
This is a trial. This is a burden. This is suffering.
Three Jewish men living in exile in the ancient kingdom of Babylonia knew about trials. Their names were Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. As they lived in captivity, they rose to positions of high authority because the king had learned of their wisdom.
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A group of Babylonian men grew jealous of the three and asked the king, Nebuchadnezzer, to require them to bow down to the god of Babylon. When commanded, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to follow the order and suffered the consequences.
Soldiers, who had tied the three together, placed them in a fiery furnace, the temperature of which had been heated seven times more than usual. This was a trial. This was a burden. This was suffering. This was certain death.
Yet it was not. When Nebuchadnezzar looked into the furnace, he saw not three but four men in a fire that was not consuming them. We can only imagine how his eyes and mind took in this sight. Disbelief, astonishment, bewilderment – and quite possibly a few loud gasps – must have overcome him.
Nebuchadnezzar recognized that the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had walked into the fiery furnace with them and had saved their lives. He immediately ordered their release and declared that anyone who said anything against the Jews’ Jehovah God would be punished severely.
Tied together, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego carried their burden into the fiery furnace, into the unthinkable, into the unknowable. They offer us points to consider when we undergo our own trials and sufferings.
The three men remained faithful to God. They walked through fire with confidence in him, seeming to be unconcerned about the outcome. When our trials come, we can walk with confidence, knowing that God is there with us – not standing away from the heat – but in it with us.
The three men leaned on each other. They carried one another’s burden as soldiers threw them into the furnace. We do not have to walk our life’s journey alone. Friends, family, even strangers come alongside, allowing themselves to be tied to our burdens as we endure them.
The witness of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego’s faith influenced others. When we carry one another’s burdens in faith, we do the same. Yoking ourselves to someone who’s suffering provides a witness as well. After we gasp, it is our blessing to carry one another’s burdens.