"If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
-The fearless three, Daniel 3:17-18
(and today’s secondary passage)
Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.
-The Man in Black (The Princess Bride)
Shadrach Meshach, and Abednego lived a story that legends are made out of. Punished during the Babylonian empire for refusing to bow down in worship the king, they are thrown into a furnace to be burned alive as a warning to others. But they love God, and during their “any last words?” moment they decide to tell the king that they think they might be rescued miraculously.
But if they aren’t…. if they are burnt to a crisp, they just want to say that God is still more worthy of worship than he is. [This is when Abednego dropped the microphone, but they didn’t write that part down.]
Their final statement has moved me for two decades because it shows something about the radical faith of these Israelites from 2600 years ago… they believed that being saved from their pain was not the end-all sign of God’s faithfulness (mind-blowing at the time).
We in the United States are fairly pain averse. We use the phrase “comfortable lifestyle” to talk about our goals. Discomfort is something to be avoided at all costs. And our faith often reflects this.
I was recently in a conversation with one of my old seminary professors. We were reflecting on the unique struggle that our country is facing right now during this pandemic. There is so much uncertainty, exhaustion, hurt, and stress on people right now. We all want it to stop. We all want to move on. And understandably, our prayers are consistent to that end.
My professor used to live in Nicaragua, so as we talked he shared this interesting insight:
“You know, Nicaraguan brothers don’t pray for God to save us from pain. They pray for the grace to stand.”
What a difference in perspective. One seeks to avoid pain. The other assumes it as a part of life and asks for grace to endure.
Today, our life goals are all-too-often a spiritually cloaked version of the American dream. “Oh God, help me be healthy, wealthy, and wise….and maybe do good things for others as I get there.”
In light of that, "having faith" is often believing that everything will be fine. But one true tragedy, one major loss, one horrible crisis in your life, and a faith like that comes crumbling down in a rubble pile of disappointment with God. Because the gloves are off, and things are totally not fine.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting God to spare us from the hard parts. It’s natural and understandable.
But if God doesn’t….
Here’s a question. Were these three men showing a lack of faith in their furnace response? Many would say that the answer is yes. Even though God did come and rescue them, they shouldn’t have doubted it at all!!
I think they were showing just how robust a true relationship with God is. It doesn’t rely on the miraculous, because it knows that the deepest promise is really about God walking with us through it.
You know what’s interesting? This story has a New Testament parallel, but with a very different ending. Jesus, in the final hours of his life, prays to the Father in the same attitude as Daniel’s friends. He prays in faith that perhaps God will bring a unique rescue…. followed by an attitude that says, “but if not, Father, I want to surrender my will to line it up with yours.” That sounds a lot like, “but even if he does not [deliver us], we will not serve your gods, king!
We want God to save us from pain, yet we forget that the one we call Lord endured incredible hardship, and called us to carry crosses as we follow in his dusty footsteps. Jesus didn’t simply endure hardship so that we wouldn’t have to deal with pain. He endured in order to show us what faithful living looked like under pressure, and to free us from the ultimate painful ending: separation. But he showed no desire for revenge, no hatred spewing out of him, no complaining about how unfair his pain was. Just love and forgiveness.
I think maybe we miss the point of the story in Daniel when we only notice the rescue at the end. Maybe the point is about a faith that is willing to walk through fire because God’s unyielding love is just so absolute.
Pain is inevitable. Sometimes God rescues us from some types of pain, but other times the pain continues. Each day is a chance to choose if we will trust the promises of God’s grace to stand faithfully through it.
Jesus, help me stand in grace today, no matter what happens.