The first story I ever heard from the Bible came from my Grandmother, Gladys. The day before, someone had stolen my bike, and I was in her kitchen with a long face, nibbling on butter cookies. She sat down and spun the tale of three young men who had angered a king and were sent into a furnace to die. It made a real impression, but I would have to wait a decade before I learned who that fourth Person was who jumped into the fire with them.
God has heated the furnace ‘seven-fold’ through the Covid-19 pandemic. Though states are easing restrictions, death tolls don’t seem to be going down. Uncertainty still has the upper hand. During these days, I’ve been searching for a word that would help me understand, perhaps, what God is wanting to do. I think I found it. The word is annealing. It means to heat and allow to cool slowly, in order to remove internal stresses and toughen it. You might think of steel as one example where the process produces a stronger finished work.
God has made us resilient and adaptable. He has made us for fire. The three young men bound and pushed into the overheated furnace that day were seen by an astonished king, ‘loosed and walking around’ like it was Sunday afternoon in Central Park. Those with a higher theological pedigree than me say the “fourth” with them was Jesus. “The son of gods.” Gladys, you could have just told me!
Something almost unthinkable has happened. All at once, all of us have been pushed into the furnace. And guess what, Jesus isn’t a casual bystander, he’s in the fire with us! We may be cooped up for another few weeks, but then we have no idea what we are stepping out of and into when the lockdown is fully lifted. But He knows! That’s when a new normal will begin, a new stage in the annealing process, what we can call the cooling down. God will use both seasons, the one we are in presently, and the re-engaging of normal, in his process of conforming, creating, and establishing something perhaps we didn’t have before it all began. He will use it all in all our lives, but I think most profoundly in the younger generation.
They thought they would graduate like every class before them, enter a robust job market, set plans in motion for advancement, achievement and leadership. But none of that is assured now. They are staring into an abyss of uncertainty, yet they are staring at it with something they didn’t have before. The molecular structure of their hearts, minds and spirits have been altered, re-formed into a hardened resiliency, which no generation since the greatest has had a chance to receive. Watch out, they will make us stand up and notice, because suddenly what matters most will not the bottom line, or what’s even best for them, but overcoming the steep climb before them. That’s what happens when you get close to Jesus, in the fire.
The three young men sent to the furnace suffered no pain, felt no agony of burns. The fire consumed only the bounds that held them. That’s the beautiful hope of the gospel, and the work God wants to do. He’s a Master Metalsmith, knows how hot he needs to make it, and how long to cool us down. From it, a new strength will emerge, one that will find its expression in the eyes of the children who have suffered loss. Isaiah 40 says it best; ”though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength.” A new strength by the hand of God, who is annealing a generation to better bring his human face to humankind and convince us all, he’s the One behind it all.
Gladys, you should have just told me.