So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? […] Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture […] None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.
This post has been percolating in my brain for a long time, and now it’s finally coming out. No one specific thing has precipitated these thoughts. I’m finally ready to talk about what I’ve been thinking about.
One of my favorite Bible stories comes from the Old Testament, in Daniel 3 (Note: all Bible verses are from The Message). In the story, three young men get in trouble for praying to God rather than a statue the king, Nebuchadnezzar, set up. Nebbie hears about it and is pissed off; he decides to toss these three guys into a humongous furnace to punish them. He says, “Who is the god who can rescue you from my power?” The reason I love this Bible story is the reply that the three guys give:
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered King Nebuchadnezzar, “Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.” (verses 16-18)
The king tosses them into the furnace, which is so hot it kills the unfortunate guards who have to get close to toss the three guys in. But amazingly, the three victims don’t burn up — God rescues them by sending an angel to protect them from the fire. The king, seeing these guys walking around in the fire, calls them back out. He’s understandably astonished that they survived the mega-fire, and he decides to worship God instead of the statue.
What I really like about this story is not the outcome, but the three guys’ response. They essentially say, “God can do anything, and we trust that He’ll save us. But even if He doesn’t, we’re still not giving up on God.” That “even if He doesn’t” speaks volumes to me. I admire the faith that these three guys had, faith that gave them calm and confidence even when they were propelled into disaster. They didn’t throw up their hands and say, “Gee, you’re right, we’re afraid God won’t save us, so we give up.” Of course they were afraid — who wouldn’t be, when faced with certain death? But that fear didn’t weaken their faith. These three guys knew God’s character. They trusted that, whether God chose to save them or not, God would work good from the situation. That doesn’t mean their personal good; they could be ashes, and that would have been sad. But they knew that even if they were toasted to a crisp, that wouldn’t stop God from orchestrating good from that evil.
This story throws us right into the question of tragedy that haunts…well…pretty much everybody who has thought about God and the world. The question, of course, is: “If God is so good, and He can control everything, why does He let bad things happen?” I continue to struggle with this, because there’s no trite answer. So many times I have prayed and seemingly seen no response from God. So many terrible things have happened in the lives of people I know, in the country, in the world, with God seeming to stand by watching — helplessly, some people would say, or perhaps uncaringly. The “why, God?” question comes from deep inside and reflects our sense that these things aren’t fair, they aren’t right, they aren’t what God should want if He was really love. Continue reading “Tragedy, God, and a Big Furnace”