When Christians get thrown into the fire, or go through an analogous horror, do they feel the pain as much as those who do not follow Jesus?
Do Christians receive a mystical deliverance from suffering?
Though Christians suffer, many of us believe that just when it gets particularly intense, we will receive a mystical deliverance that makes the pain tolerable. I certainly want to believe that. Isn’t that the testimony of the psalms, and an increasingly popular Christian story? That bright light up ahead warms our soul; we feel the touch of an angel before the surgery; we hear a divine word of encouragement when all hope was lost.
The answer is yes, and Scripture offers its support.
The three Hebrews were spared from Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace while those who threw them in were swallowed up by the flames. The children of Israel faced annihilation by Pharaoh’s army, but the Lord opened a path in the sea. Yes, indeed, the world experiences the full brunt of pain; meanwhile, we escape with barely a flesh wound.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned;
the flames will not set you ablaze. (Isa. 43:2)
But wait. Though I like the idea of immunity, there are plenty of times when the waters do sweep over us and the fire does set us ablaze, and we drown and we burn.
So—the answer is also no.
When the Messiah comes, he goes through forty days in the wilderness with no supernatural intrusion. He had Scripture and nothing else. Then, he suffers the fire of crucifixion, and he is burned. We have every reason to believe that he experienced the full brunt of the pain that fire had to offer.
The deliverance is not always as expected.
As a result, our understanding of deliverance becomes more nuanced. The tribulations of the early church were fiery indeed.
Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground. (Heb. 11:35-38)
There have been an endless number of Christians who felt no physical, emotional or mystical deliverance from horrible things. They know that the Christian story does not always have a note of victory in this world.
There is always help.
The Christian story is this: we may, indeed, feel the full fury of the curse on our physical body. And our souls can go through times when the pain is so intolerable it feels like we cannot breathe, yet it continues. In the midst of it we call out “Help, Lord Jesus,” and we ask everyone we can to call out “help” on our behalf. And Jesus helps. That is certain, absolutely certain because Jesus is risen from the dead. So we don’t tell the story as if the fire is the last word. It is not.