I’ve been thinking about this phrase “Baptism by Fire” these last few months and wondering where it came from. I asked a few Costa Rican friends if they had anything in Spanish that was similar, but they said No. (Maybe if there’s someone out there who knows of one, you could add it to the comments here.) So of course, I Googled it. Basically it comes from taking some scripture verses out of context and applying them to a really hard situation. Once upon a time it was used in France to talk about a soldier’s first real combat experience. And the Mormons have added it to their rituals, again taking the scriptures out of context, to confer a higher authority (“priesthood”) on someone.
But the more I think about this phrase, and about the imagery of fire, the more I feel like it’s a gross exaggeration of a temporary rough spot in life. It’s an exaggeration along the lines of “you’re killing me” or “we’re flat broke” or “that was the last straw.” When we use such over the top words to describe a fleeting trial, we start to feel hopeless and victimized by life. We start to imagine that we are some kind of martyr in unusual circumstances.
But the Bible tells me that there is no trial or temptation which is new to mankind, nothing new under the sun, nothing that hasn’t been tried and conquered before. This gives me great hope. Rather than stripping me of my uniqueness, it bolsters me with good company. Others have gone this way before me… and survived. Sure some have fallen into the gorge on the side of the trail, but the survivors have left their torches along the path to illuminate my steps. Their baptism by fire lights my way. I can do this!
In the flames of my trial, I find the essence of my being. I know what I am made of. The dross, the flaws, the impure is burned away and the gold and silver bubble to the surface. It’s the way God designed me. As I pass through the trials, this old world burns away. The straw and wooden crutches that have supported me go up in a flash and I have to stand on my faith- really owning it, really trusting it. Is it strong enough to hold me up? Or am I going down in flames too?
God does not preserve us from the flames. They serve a purpose. The martyrs of old met their end in the flames, being burned alive for their confession of faith and seeing this faith materialize into the face of Jesus right in the midst of their trial. And it was in the very midst of the fiery furnace that the Son of Man met those three Hebrew teenagers Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (in the Bible, Daniel chapter 3). They were not rescued from the fire- they met God IN the fire. I bet if you asked any one of them if they would have liked to skip over this episode in their lives, not one of them would choose to miss out on their closest encounter with God. It was a once-in-a-lifetime miracle of epic proportions that has encouraged Jesus Followers for centuries thereafter. The fire is not our enemy- the fire is our opportunity to meet God face to face.
Embrace your trial by fire and seek for Jesus’s face amidst the flickering flames. Let everything else go up in flames.
“If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O kind. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:17-18