Faith seems like an odd, shifting, abstract concept sometimes. There doesn’t seem to be a satisfying way to define it. It is something like ‘belief’, we could say. Maybe something closer to ‘trust’. The word ‘confidence’ is similar. When we speak about our faith in God; our ‘trust’ in his direction and plans for our lives and the world around us, I fear we don’t seriously consider what a faith like that implicitly demands from us. I want to bring something to your attention that has been living rent-free in my mind since I read it again recently.
I’d like to bring you to the book of Daniel chapter 3. For context, here we find Israel, God’s chosen nation, in a state of exile and servitude to the kings of Babylon, the mightiest empire in the world. In chapter 3 we are introduced to three young Hebrew men who have done well for themselves in service to Israel’s overlord. King Nebuchadnezzar was a liberal king for his day in that when he conquered a nation, he absorbed the talented individuals of that nation into his service. This made the court of the Babylonian king an eclectic gathering of capable multiethnic specialists whose expertise few royal courts could contend with. These Hebrews, we are told, have been set over affairs in the province of Babylon which means not only were they in a position of some authority, but they were working in the province of the Capital city as well. They were in direct service to the king and most likely enjoyed the benefits of lifestyle such a position would command. They were working in a foreign land and had been elevated to a position of envy. Their names are Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
Now the king constructed a 90 foot tall golden statue and issued a decree that when the people heard the sound of instruments playing, they were to fall down towards the statue and worship it. Those that did not immediately do this were to be thrown into a burning furnace. This was a problem for our Hebrew protagonists and, predictably, for those of you with the benefit of a Sunday-school education, they refused to honor the decree of the king. When word gets back to the royal court that a few Hebrew men in a position of authority in the king’s own province aren’t obeying the royal decree, Nebuchadnezzar is furious. He brings the men into his presence and questions them, finally giving them the ultimatum: “...if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
Here the three respond to the king, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 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.”
Now, if you’re like me and you have a general knowledge of this story, you know what happens next, our fearless heroes, their faith as stalwart as granite, are indeed thrown into the furnace and, to all of our collective relief, God does indeed rescue them from the flames. It is a tale of unwavering faith in God and a demonstration of what is possible in your life, and what circumstances you can change when you invoke such a faith...
...Or is it?
You see, to be honest, I haven’t recounted the whole story. I’ve actually omitted a massively important (and to be honest, quite uncomfortable) section of the story. Let’s rewind.
We’re back in the throne-room, our heroes are talking to the king, the king says, “if you’re ready to bow before the statue, very good. If you do not worship it, you will be thrown into the blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?”
So far so good. Then, we get to see our boys dropping the mic on the king with the whole, “...the God we serve is able to deliver us, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.”
So now you’re probably thinking, ‘Yeah, so what’s the problem?’
Well, the thing is, our heroes don’t just say that. What they actually say is, “...the God we serve is able to deliver us, 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 you have set up.”
‘But even if he does not’
What if he doesn’t?
Does faith remain? Would you still trust? Could you have confidence? What if none of this works out the way you hoped it would? What if you take a stand for something you believe is right and you’re thrown in a furnace for it?
Is God still due all the glory and honor and praise even if he doesn’t save Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego? They seemed to believe so. And herein lies the crux of the story for me. God is not a genie in a lamp for you to declare your desires to so he can bend the fabric of reality to better suit your plans or your life. Too often we see our faith as a tool to clear the path in front of us; to take away a particular hurt or barrier. Some schools of thought tell us that if we just ‘name it and claim it’ it will be done for you. Faith as small as a mustard seed moving mountains and all that. Make no mistake, God is Sovereign. His decrees are irresistible, and nothing will stand against that which God commands; His will WILL be done. But here is the important part, it has to be His will. Can you trust His will, His purpose, and His plans when they don’t look the way you hoped they would?
When Jesus was teaching his disciples how to pray he told them to say, “...your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Later when Jesus prayed in the garden before he was crucified he said, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
This allowance for the will of God is really a demonstration of our confidence, our faith, in God’s character. We know He is good. He is just. He is full of love for us. He is trustworthy. We’re taught, God himself tells us, that He never changes. That is to say, WHO He is, His character, is always the same. When God shows us an attribute of Himself like His mercy, or forgiveness, or kindness, or love, we know we can expect His mercy, forgiveness, kindness, and love all the time because it is a part of his character. So when the fires of life spring up around us, even if we aren’t plucked from the flames, He is still good. He is still just. He is still full of love for us. He is still trustworthy. He hasn’t changed.
If it is not His will that you should be healed, will you bless His name? This is a difficult position that I guarantee all believers will find themselves in. Something has happened, or is threatening to happen, and you can’t wrap your mind around God’s will in the situation. So you find yourself earnestly crying out to God to save you. You believe He can, you believe He will, but even if He doesn’t He still deserves to be glorified and blessed for who He is. His will is already triumphant and his banner waving over us is love.
So as ambiguous as the word ‘faith’ can be at times, I think the question we really need to contend with when we consider it is, ‘Do I believe God is who he tells me he is, and who He’s demonstrated himself to be?’ A Christian life is the struggle to be able to answer ‘Yes’ to that question every day. If God really is the kind of God He tells us he is, we can have full confidence in His will even if we can’t understand the grand design. Do I believe he hasn’t changed? Is He still sovereign over everything? Is His justice perfect? Is He still good? And are all those things still true even when life has beaten me down? The answer is, and always will be, ‘yes’.
“I will bless the Lord at all times,
His praise will always be on my lips”
(Even if He doesn’t)
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