Fidelity seems to be opposed to freedom. If we strive to remain faithful, it is as though we have amputated our freedom. Remaining faithful to someone is seen as honorable or loyal when the person seems to be worthy, but when a doubt or objection to their worthiness is found the modern mind sees fidelity as a waste. If a person no longer experiences love in a relationship, fidelity becomes optional. What is the point of fidelity if it only causes unhappiness?
Jesus reveals a deeper kind of fidelity that has to precede our fidelity to human beings. We must be faithful to the truth, and that especially means faithfulness to God. The story of the three men in the furnace teaches us how essential fidelity to the One True God is. Being faithful to God, loving God, has to come before any love for human beings, or any place of respect or honor given to them. We must have an a priori respect and honor for others, especially those in our household or who govern us, but that loyalty must always remain subordinate to fidelity to God.
This fidelity to the truth is actually the source of real freedom. “The truth will make you free.” Jesus is faithful and obedient to His Father, and He is definitively freed from death. The three men are faithful to what God has commanded them above the orders of an earthly king, and they are also freed from death and further persecution by the king. Human beings change and can be unpredictable, if we try to put our whole trust in them we will necessarily be unhappy. If we trust our feelings and try to remain faithful to what makes us feel good we will also become unhappy because our life will lack stability. We must come to discover, love and trust the good God who never changes and orders our minds in truth.
“Hence, instead of asking for relief from the troubles unconditionally, we embrace the Lord’s planning and providence; and without knowledge of what will be of benefit, we leave the helm to the pilot, no matter what he wishes, understanding clearly that he is able to free us from the threatened evils. Whether he wishes to do so, we do not know; but we leave it to him, wise governor as he is, and accept his verdict, confident that it is to our benefit. Whether he rescues us or not, therefore, we shun worship of your statue and your gods.”1
“But I say all this now, and select all the histories that contain trials and tribulations and the wrath of kings and their evil designs, in order that we may fear nothing except offending God. For then also was there a furnace burning; yet they derided it but feared sin. For they knew that if they were consumed in the fire, they should suffer nothing that was to be dreaded, but if they were guilty of impiety, they should undergo the extremes of misery. It is the greatest punishment to commit sin, though we may remain unpunished; … it is the greatest honor and repose to live virtuously, though we may be punished.”2
“But notice carefully and understand in what sense Scripture says that anyone should deliver his body to be burned: not, certainly, that he should jump into the fire when harassed by a pursuing enemy but that, when a choice is offered him of either doing wrong or suffering wrong, he chooses not to do wrong rather than not to suffer wrong. In this case, he delivers his body not to the power of the slayer, as those three men did who were being forced to adore the golden statue and who were threatened by the one who was forcing them with the furnace of burning fire if they did not do it. They refused to adore the idol, but they did not cast themselves into the fire.”3
- Theodoret of Cyr, Commentary on Daniel 3.18. Stevenson, K., & Gluerup, M. (Eds.). (2008). Ezekiel, Daniel (p. 180). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Chrysostom, HOMILIES CONCERNING THE STATUES 6.14. Stevenson, K., & Gluerup, M. (Eds.). (2008). Ezekiel, Daniel (p. 178). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
- Augustine, LETTER 173. Stevenson, K., & Gluerup, M. (Eds.). (2008). Ezekiel, Daniel (p. 179). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.