By Jo Witt
Copyright 2020

I’ve heard it said that faith that hasn’t been tested isn’t true faith. It’s easy to have faith when life is going well, but true faith endures in spite of trying times. For sure right now our faith is being tested as we face these troubling times where there have been so many changes to our normal lives; with social isolation, boredom, depression, and the stress of uncertainty; and those physically and mentally struggling to recover, along with those grieving the loss of their loved ones. With the phrase, “all we can do is pray,” comes the “Why, God?” exclamations when prayers are not answered as we had prayed. But often God has a bigger plan, one woven together by series of events. And all things work together for ultimate good.

A scripture that came to my mind this week that I have been pondering is Daniel 3:18, “But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” (NRSV) Taken within context, King Nebuchadnezzar had made a golden statue. During the dedication ceremony of the golden statue, the herald proclaimed, “You are commanded, O peoples, nations, and languages, that when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble, you are to fall down and worship the golden statue that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire.” (NRSV) However, some Chaldeans came to King Nebuchadnezzar saying that there were certain Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were not obeying the decree. Furious, King Nebuchadnezzar called for the three to come and stand before him, confronting them as to whether the allegation was true, and stating, “Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble to fall down and worship the statue that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be thrown into a furnace of blazing fire, and who is the god that will deliver you out of my hands?” (NRSV) Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego responded to him, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.” What a faith statement. The three were not concerned over the outcome because their focus was only on God. Their commitment to their connection with God was more important than whether they would suffer and die. And God would reward that faith and that commitment. Their response so outraged Nebuchadnezzar, that he ordered the furnace to be heated seven times hotter than usual and ordered the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the hot furnace. The raging flames of the overheated furnace killed the men lifting Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego into the furnace. Looking upon the scene, King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished at what he saw and asked his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” (NRSV), which his counselors confirmed. Then the king said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.” (NRSV) Nebuchadnezzar went to the door of the furnace and beckoned for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to come out. When they did, the king and all those with him saw that “the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them.” (NRSV) God had rewarded their faith in him, not only by being present with them through the fiery, trying time, but protecting them from harm. But God also had a bigger plan. Through that event, King Nebuchadnezzar became a believer in the Jewish God, saying, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree: Any people, nation, or language that utters blasphemy against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego shall be torn limb from limb, and their houses laid in ruins; for there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” (NRSV)

So, how is this relevant in our lives today? The phrase from the key scripture that has replayed in my mind all week has been “but, if not….” But, if not. We pray, but God does not always answer our prayers as we ask. I would imagine that despite their faith statement that even if the king would burn them in a hot fiery furnace that regardless they would not worship the golden statute, that likely they were praying to God that it wouldn’t happen. And yet, despite their strong stance standing up for God, God allowed them to be led into the furnace (likened to tough times people face in life). I love the scripture where it says there were FOUR men in the furnace, and the fourth was like a God. God did not abandon them and leave them to go through the fiery, trying time alone—He was with them. And God is with us also, with us through these challenging times. And on the other side, after the trying time was over, good came from the situation—King Nebuchadnezzar converted to the Jewish God.

Trying times are for a time, but God will be with us through it. Of course when we pray, we are always hopeful God will answer as we have prayed. But if not… we can cling to the faith that God has a bigger, better plan.

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