A Divine Fire Escape
In the Eastern churches, the service of matins includes several odes presenting images of salvation from the Old Testament. There is an ode on Moses and Israel escaping Egypt through crossing the Red Sea, another on Jonah’s three days in the belly of the whale and escape from the depths of the sea, and two odes about the three young men in the fiery furnace who miraculously escape. In all three stories, an escape is accomplished following a trial in a place of danger: in crossing the waters of the Red Sea, in the belly of the whale in the depths of the sea, and in the flames of the fiery furnace, where suddenly we find “four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods” (Dan. 3:25). There is Christology in all three stories.
I was especially reminded of the fiery furnace and the escape of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego many years ago by the title of a book that had nothing to do with the book of Daniel: Young Men and Fire by Norman Maclean (author of A River Runs Through It and Other Stories).Maclean tells, as the subtitle puts it, A True Story of the Mann Gulch Fire, a tragic tale of both death and survival.
While I’ve always connected the book’s title with Daniel’s three young men, it was not until years later that I realized that its story offers an image that has deepened my understanding of how Christ’s death opened the way for salvation. A dramatic act in the story of the fire is an image of salvation, that is, of Christ’s saving death. Moreover, the responses of the young men in the story to that act parallel our responses to Christ. But first, I must summarize the story.
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James M. Kushiner is the Director of Publications for The Fellowship of St. James and the former Executive Editor of Touchstone.
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