Quarantines and social-distancing mandates have seemed to only exacerbate the ongoing problem of loneliness — particularly for the same-sex-attracted single woman or man. It has become commonplace for me to hear, “I am afraid of being alone for the rest of my life.” But this feeling, though understandable, is based on a faulty premise: singleness means being alone.
This misunderstanding is not uncommon. The Supreme Court of the United States assumes that misery is the fate of the unmarried — particularly those attracted to the same sex. In the watershed 5–4 decision legalizing so-called same-sex marriage, Justice Kennedy’s flaw-riddled majority opinion stated that, without the prospect of marriage, people are “condemned to live in loneliness.”
According to health professionals, loneliness is a serious problem and can contribute to premature death, even more so than obesity. A recent study revealed that deficiency of social connection is equivalent to smoking fifteen cigarettes a day. For those battling same-sex attraction, saying no to sin often means amplified loneliness.
“For those battling same-sex attraction, saying no to sin often means amplified loneliness.”
The experience can feel bewildering. Why would our obedience to God be followed by such difficult trials — whether loneliness, the experience of ongoing temptations, or other struggles? Lately, I’ve found courage from the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Fierce trials came after these three boldly said no to sin. Their experience serves as a reminder for me as I face my own trials.
Though Satan Should Buffet
Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, commanded everyone to worship the golden image he had set up, and the penalty of disobedience was death in a burning, fiery furnace. Not surprisingly, the Babylonians brought a scurrilous report against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and the infuriated tyrant demanded the young Hebrews to submit on the spot. The temptation to turn to idols is often persistent.
Unwaveringly, these three stood up to the most powerful ancient Near Eastern ruler at the time and proclaimed, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us” (Daniel 3:17). What’s remarkable is that, in Babylon, there were no godly parents present to teach them to fear the Lord. There were no priests to recite the Law of Moses. There was no temple for the children of Abraham to worship together. All Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had were memories before being ripped from their families (Daniel 1:3–4). Yet without question, they clearly knew their God.
Whatever My Lot
Even more remarkable are the words that follow: “But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:18). Belief in a sovereign God does not mean life will go our way.
Whether they lived or died, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not worship the golden image. These mere adolescents recognized that almighty God is sovereign both in triumph and in tragedy. Yes, the Lord can certainly deliver us from our fiery trials, but do we have the same faith as these three to say, “But if not”?
Such a great act of obedience surely will be rewarded with immediate peace and comfort, right? A loving God wouldn’t allow life to get worse, would he? Nebuchadnezzar became even more incensed, and he ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter (Daniel 3:19). When we do right, our lives often get worse before getting better.
“When we do right, things often get worse before getting better.”
Yet after the three men fell into the furnace, the pagan king noticed a fourth with them, one who looked “like a son of the gods” (Daniel 3:25). The pre-incarnate Christ had already been present with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, but he didn’t appear until they entered the heart of the inferno. Immanuel walked with them in the midst of the fire.
Whether you are ridiculed or persecuted for choosing God over sinful desires, or whether the enemy tries to heap undue guilt and shame for being tempted, or whether the pangs of loneliness nag at your soul, remember that our Redeemer lives, and he has promised to the redeemed that he will never leave us as orphans (John 14:18). “Behold, I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). There is no fire so hot, no storm so fierce, no trial so intense that it keeps away our Savior.
I Bear It No More
In biblical Hebrew, reiteration is like the spotlight focusing on the subject in a play. A double iteration could be incidental. A triple occurrence is surely intentional. Yet a quadruple repetition is forceful and provocative.
After the furnace was heated seven times hotter, mighty men bound Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:20). These young Hebrews were bound with all their clothes (Daniel 3:21). Because the consuming flames killed the mighty men, the three fell bound into the fiery furnace (Daniel 3:23). An astonished Nebuchadnezzar declared, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” (Daniel 3:24).
Why the fourfold emphasis? The answer comes from the lips of the heathen dictator: “I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt” (Daniel 3:25). The word unbound can also be translated liberated or freed. Because of the fire, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were actually set free. The flames did not touch their bodies, their hair, or their cloaks — and they didn’t even smell like fire (Daniel 3:27). The only thing that God allowed the fire to incinerate were the very ropes that bound them.
Why does a loving and sovereign God allow us to go through the fire even after heeding his commands? Maybe he permits us to endure adversities in order to set us free. “For freedom Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).
This steady war we wage with our flesh is both manifold and ubiquitous (1 Peter 4:12). But we have the assurance that Immanuel will remain with us in the midst of the tribulation, and he can surely sympathize with our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15). Through the fire, our Savior may be using it to set us free.
Let This Blest Assurance Control
Like many Christian singles, I didn’t choose singleness and actually desire to be married. But God has not yet provided me a wife. Singleness does not mean that I’m “condemned to live in loneliness.” I know some who are married, but they are still miserably lonely. Marriage is not the cure to loneliness; Jesus is. Like the fourth man in the fire, he walks with us in every trial and tribulation.
“There is no fire so hot, no storm so fierce, no trial so intense that it keeps away our Savior.”
More than that, Jesus models for us what it looks like to be single and not alone. During his three years of ministry, Jesus was seldom alone. Jesus came, in fact, to create an entirely new community of brothers and sisters, united in relationship to him. Whereas the Old Testament underscores the primacy of relationships bound by physical blood (tribe, clan, and house), the New Testament highlights a new and eternal family bound by the blood of Christ. Even marriages are temporary fixtures of this age.
The church as family affirms that life together is necessary and beneficial for all — whether single or married, whether experiencing natural or same-sex attractions. Together, we remind one another of our desperate need for the only solution for our sin nature: Christ and his body, the church.
So, am I afraid of being alone for the rest of my life? In Christ and connected to the body of Christ, I know that I am never alone, no matter how intense the fire.