I recently saw an interview with a woman on television. She was going through a very emotional process of sharing her recent cancer diagnosis and the fight she has ahead of her. In doing so, she made the statement, “My faith in God tells I’m going to overcome this.” I admire her willingness to express her faith and I am in no way trying to judge her faith or theology based on six seconds of interview footage. The statement struck me because I very often hear similar ideas expressed as people talk about overcoming obstacles in their lives and I think it brings up an uncomfortable theological truth. Put simply, God may not want you to overcome that struggle. He may not even want you to survive it.
Do you remember the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the book of Daniel? They’re the guys that got thrown into the flaming furnace, but did not burn up. They got into that precarious situation by refusing to bow in worship to an idol of the king. When confronted by the king himself, they made this incredible statement:
“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. 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.”
They claim the power of God to help them come through their predicament – a bold statement of faith. However, they make an even bolder claim than that in their response to the king. Did you see it? It’s five little words – “even if he does not…” With this tiny phrase, they remind us that true faith is anchored in God himself. Not in God’s willingness to help us. Not in God’s power to rescue us. True faith is tied to God’s being and character, not to his actions as we see them.
We are all very capable of creating in our minds a God who sees the world exactly as we do, wants the same things we want, and shows up in just the way we expect. And, as long as he complies, our faith is solid. A faith that is contingent on God’s “coming through” for us is not really a faith in God – it is a faith that our circumstances will work out in a way that makes us happy. On the occasion that they do not, our faith takes a major hit, sometimes even a fatal one.
We can and do fervently pray for God’s intervention in our lives and the lives of those we care about. When God rescues us from our fiery furnaces, we celebrate and proclaim it to anyone that will listen. And when he does not, we still hold onto him – not because we understand him or because he takes care of things the way we want him to, but simply because he is God and we trust him.
Credit: My father-in-law, Mike Sublett, is passionate about Daniel 3:18 (he even had custom t-shirts made). Spending last week with him put this passage on my heart.