Nobody goes through life without ever putting a foot wrong. If we find ourselves in a bad situation, it could well be that we’ve gone wrong somewhere. Why were the nation of Israel suffering in exile? Because they had made a great many wrong choices: they had been ignoring and disobeying God’s laws for generations, and in the end the consequences caught up with them. And for us too, defying God’s will is likely to lead us into trouble sooner or later. Things such as idolatry, adultery and dishonesty are always a bad idea.
But sometimes we can find ourselves in difficult situations because of other people’s bad choices (Daniel’s friends were not in Babylon because they personally had done anything wrong, but because the nation as a whole had done wrong). And sometimes it’s making the right choice that lands us in hot water – because God doesn’t promise us a trouble-free life! Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were facing a very unpleasant death because they had made the right decision not to commit idolatry.
What can I do if I realise I’ve gone wrong…?
Admit it! (to yourself, and to others)
Don’t underestimate the power of a freely given, up-front apology. It’s so rare these days!
Sometimes it’s possible to retrace our steps and repair the damage that we’ve done – by making restitution, for example.
Unfortunately many decisions can’t be undone. But do not despair! If we can’t go back, we have to go on. That doesn’t mean digging yourself deeper and deeper into the hole. It means repenting, asking God for forgiveness, committing the situation to Him, and trusting Him to show you a way through and out of it. Now when the apostle Paul says that “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28), ‘all things’ really does mean ‘all things’ – even including our mistakes. That’s not saying it will be easy to work it through – the process might be very painful. God doesn’t usually wave some kind of magic wand, to make everything instantly ‘all right again’; it may take a while to get ourselves back ‘on track’.
If I know I’ve got it right…
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego know that they are doing the ‘right’ thing – so they too commit themselves to God and trust Him for the outcome. They are willing to accept whatever He decides to do, whether it’s good or bad (for them). They know that God is all-powerful and well able to protect them from any danger if they are faithful to Him (verse 17). But they also know that obeying God doesn’t necessarily guarantee them a happy ending. His will for them might be martyrdom. They are facing death, and they are fully prepared for it (verse 18).
How all-embracing is our faith? Can we see God at work in the ‘bad’ outcomes as well as in the ‘good’ ones? The writer to the Hebrews lists some of God’s miraculous interventions in Old Testament times, including those believers “who shut the mouths of lions and quenched the fury of the flames” (Hebrews 11:33,34) – but we mustn’t forget that “there were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.” (Hebrews 11:35)
So Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are thrown into the furnace. Yet God is with them, preserving their lives. But He would still have been with them, if they had died there! “Whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:8)
Their miraculous escape forces Nebuchadnezzar to review the situation, because what else can you do with men who cannot be killed? He realises that the God of the Jews cannot be overcome, and he admits defeat.
And that’s the last we hear of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. But of course, it’s not the end of their personal stories. Did they live happily ever after? Did they continue to make wise choices? We don’t know. Even small choices can have long-term consequences. Following Jesus is a major decision, but it isn’t just a one-off decision; it’s also a series of minor decisions that we carry on making day in, day out, for our whole lives.