I had a record scratch moment today, one of those pauses in time when my jaw drops, my head whips back for a double take, and the record playing in my mind comes to a needle-screeching halt along with everything around me.
Believe it or not, it happened while I was reading the Bible.
Can I let you in on a little secret? Those moments don’t happen often for me, certainly not as frequently as I’d like, most likely because I don’t read the Bible as often as I intend to. Maybe those moments don’t happen to you that often either. Maybe your Bible is a bit dusty or maybe you don’t even read the Bible. Would you hang here with me for a few minutes anyway?
So there I was poking around in Daniel, poking around half-heartedly because I’ve read Daniel a ton of times. I know the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, I know the story of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar and his giant gold statue that he wanted everyone to bow down to, or else be thrown into a furnace of fire. I know this story, I can even recall the felt figures of the characters stuck on the black Sunday School felt board, while I listened and chewed mouthfuls of graham crackers and tried to figure out just who the hell this king was, thinking he could make everyone bow down to his statue.
In case you weren’t indoctrinated with graham crackers and felt board Bible stories, the basic story is this. King Nebuchadnezzar is power-hungry and wants everyone to worship his gods and bow down to this particular hulking gold image he’s had made. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse because they’re Jews who love God. They’re summoned before the king who succinctly orders them to bow down and worship the statue.
We pick up the story in Daniel 3:16.
16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 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. 18 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.”
Did you catch that? They recognize God’s ability to save them from flames, but the record scratch moment for me comes in the next verse. “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.”
But even if He does not.
I’m overcome by this phrase. I’m not sure how I’ve missed the magnitude of it all these years.
As we enter the Christmas season, my FaceBook feed isn’t filled with holiday cheer. I wish it were different, but right now my feed is stitched with posts from broken mothers who lost their children too soon, posts from friends who are helplessly watching their parents slip into the fog of dementia, posts from friends undergoing massive amounts of chemo and radiation treatments so intense that it’s all they can do to cross off another treatment appointment on their calendars.
I don’t struggle with knowing God is able to deliver us. I know that down to my bones, that God is able to deliver kids from death, to deliver parents from dementia and friends from cancer.
I know He is able.
But sometimes He doesn’t.
And that’s the part that tangles me up in my sheets at night and leaves me awake in the quiet company of only the low hum resonating from the refrigerator.
Sometimes He doesn’t deliver us.
And no crappy platitudes of “Everything happens for a reason,” or “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle,” can stop the bleeding out from the knifing pain that sometimes He just doesn’t.
I don’t know why. People who pretend to know why God does or doesn’t sweep in for the rescue, well, those people make me want to say strings of bad words.
I will never know why God does or doesn’t step in. In the absence of that knowledge, I’m left with only one choice.
When I’m being scorched by life, I can determine my response. I ache to be like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, to stand with fire licking at my toes and still be able to say that I know God is able to save me, that I believe He will save me, but even if He does not, my heart will remain steadfast.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s response infuriates the king, who demands that the furnace be cranked up seven times higher than usual and that the three men be bound before they’re burned to smithereens.
Once they’re tied up and thrown into the furnace, King Nebuchadnezzar has a record scratch moment of his own. He looks into the furnace and sees a fourth figure that looks like God in the fire with the three men. And the four of them are walking around in the fire, completely impervious to the flames. The king calls Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego out of the furnace and, get this, not a hair is singed. They don’t even smell like fire. The king changes his tune and recognizes that God is God and that it was God who saved the three men.
And while that part is great, the thing that always thrills my heart about this story is that these guys remained with each other their whole lives, including the worst moment. They stood together before the fire, in the fire, and back out of it again.
This season some of us will sit down to dinner and fight back tears looking at an empty chair. Some of us will lay with parents and grandparents and sing sweet lullabies into threads of their memories. Some of us will breathe in and out every day during treatment and breathing alone will be hard enough.
As we stand on the edges of furnaces that feel more than seven times too hot, could we stand together? Could I stand with you and you stand with me? I won’t have any sage words to say or words you might find in a Hallmark card.
I hope to God my words will sound more like these. God is able to deliver. I believe He will. But even if He does not, let us keep standing with truth in our hearts. And if you don’t mind I’ll stand here with you because I know that God is walking in this fire, too.