Trial by fire

A Christian Science perspective: Even if what you're going through is particularly difficult, God's help is at hand.

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Sometimes during an especially challenging time – or fiery trial as the Bible terms it – our only desire is for that particular challenge to be over and resolved. And it’s certainly natural to want to achieve healing and peace in our lives.

But in some of life’s difficult trials or challenges, if a resolution doesn’t come about right away, it might be tempting to ask, Why me? What did I do to deserve this? Can anything good come from this?

I’ve been there, as many of us have. But what I’ve found most comforting and helpful in such situations is the knowledge – gained from studying the Bible – that even if the trial is especially fiery or challenging, God is with me in it. That He will see me through it, and that I will grow as a result of it.

One of the most loved stories in the Bible concerns three innocent men who were confronted with a literal fiery trial. In fact, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown into a furnace not because they had done something wrong, but because they had done the right thing. They refused to worship a false god, as had been demanded by King Nebuchadnezzar. Instead, they remained steadfast in their insistence on worshiping the true God.

At the king’s command, the three Hebrews were thrown into the fiery furnace. The result astonished the king. “Did not we cast three men bound into the midst of the fire?” he asked. Assured that they had, he responded: “Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God” (Dan. 3:24, 25). To me the reference to “the form of the fourth” being like the Son of God is an indication that the furnace experience revealed God’s presence with those who were undergoing the ordeal. The story implies that the spiritual steadfastness and fidelity to truth exhibited by Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego elicited the divine aid they needed in that intense situation.

And so it often is in our lesser trials. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered and founded Christian Science, underlined this truth that a difficult human circumstance will often reveal our spiritual identity by prompting us to refine our thoughts and aspirations. She wrote, “Those only who are tried in the furnace reflect the image of their Father” (“Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896,” p. 278). And in “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” she stated: “Sorrow has its reward. It never leaves us where it found us. The furnace separates the gold from the dross that the precious metal may be graven with the image of God” (p. 66).

For many people the loss of a relative can feel like one of the most challenging situations to face. In my own life, losing a close relative when I was young was very difficult. It caused a lot of upheaval and raised many questions for me. But I gradually realized that what seemed so trying was actually propelling me forward spiritually, causing me to want to learn about our relationship to God, which could bring freedom. Moving forward spiritually through that experience proved very important for me in confronting other family challenges that developed in later years. And I now see that I might not have shown the same interest in spirituality if I hadn’t had to meet the original challenge.

We can regard intense challenges – or furnace experiences – as opportunities for growth. They enable us to learn about our spiritual identity and to prove the presence of God in our lives, leading us to a clearer view of who we are as His children. “The great Master triumphed in furnace fires” wrote Mary Baker Eddy of Christ Jesus, in reference to his overcoming the ultimate challenge of the crucifixion (“Message to The Mother Church for 1902,” p. 19). In his supreme triumph of the resurrection, Jesus proved that his fiery trial had revealed his nature as Christ, the image of the Father.

Whatever trial we are confronted with, we have the opportunity, like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to worship one God of healing. We can gain more understanding of ourselves as the perfect image of God, even in the midst of intensely challenging circumstances. A hymn in the “Christian Science Hymnal” (No. 123) says:

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flames shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”

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