And if not, He is still good.
It seems the whole world has been hurting lately. The can’t-catch-your-breath kind of hurting. The crying-in-the-middle-of-the-night kind of hurting. The haunting, always-right-around-the-corner kind of hurting that packs a punch. And I want so badly to pack Hurt a bag and bid him farewell at the bus stop with a “please never come back” closing remark. I want us all to be able to walk away from the pain and heartache once and for all.
But life doesn’t work like that. We’re all vulnerable to pain. We’re all bound to hurt. We’re all fighting to make it through the darkness. None of this is new; it’s as old as Adam and Eve and the eating of the forbidden fruit itself. (This sounds pretty bleak if we stop here.)
Do you know how we’re going to make it through the valleys of life, really and truly? Prepare your Sunday School answers, friends. No matter how elementary or cliché it may sound, God is the only way. He is the One who makes beauty from our ashes (Isaiah 61). The One who turns our curses into our blessings (Nehemiah 13). The One who meets us right smack-dab in the middle of the fire (Daniel 3).
I recently read the story in Daniel about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. They are a few of Daniel’s friends who refuse to follow the king’s commands to worship a golden image because they are wholeheartedly devoted to the King of kings. The ruler, Nebuchadnezzar, becomes infuriated because of their insubordination and orders his men to throw the three rebels into the fiery furnace. (If you are picturing a giant chocolate bunny as the golden image too, then I’m so glad we can share the strange results of a Veggie Tales childhood.)
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego respond to the king’s morbid sentencing by telling him where their loyalties lie,
“If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18).
Daniel’s friends have that can’t-keep-us-down kind of faith. They say, “Go ahead and throw us in the fire. Our God will rescue us. But even if He doesn’t, even if we die in the flames, God is still good and we will worship Him alone.”
Now is about the time in the story where we expect God to show up and keep his followers from getting tossed into the furnace. But you know what happens instead? God allows them to fall into the fire.
Was the Lord too busy or too nonchalant about the situation? Nope. It turns out that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were never alone in the fire…When the king shifts his gaze by looking into the furnace, he sees four men instead of three. God sends an angel for His servants’ protection and deliverance in their moment of distress. Daniel’s posse emerges from the fire without a scratch, much to the astonishment of the onlookers. At the end of the story, God gets the glory.
A couple of chapters over, we see the Lord’s faithfulness once more in the midst of a trial. Daniel is thrown into the lion’s den as a death sentence for worshipping his heavenly Father. But God shows up with His almighty power in that dark place. He closes the mouths of the lion and they find Daniel the next morning, alive and well, still trusting and worshiping the Lord. In what would have been a bleak day, God prevents Daniel’s impending death and He is rightly glorified all over again.
Here’s the subtle framework that I can’t stop noticing: Daniel and his friends do not escape their trials. They don’t find themselves miraculously prevented from entering the lion’s den or the fiery furnace. But what makes all the difference is that they were never alone in their times of trouble, and neither are we.
I think that’s pretty reassuring as we walk through the valleys of life. We aren’t in those seasons of suffering by mistake. God isn’t watching us in our moments of pain and thinking, “Well, I didn’t see this coming.”
He sees us in our hurting.
He loves us in our hurting.
He never leaves us in our hurting.
God is walking right beside us, ready to comfort our aching hearts and wrap up our wounds as only He can. He will bring beauty from our lives, no matter how desperate or disappointing our situations may look at the moment.
And you might be thinking, “That’s all well and good, but how do we really do this?” How do we cling to Jesus when it feels like the ground is shaking beneath our feet? How can we feel the presence of God when we feel so utterly alone?
I’d love to think there is a one-size-fits-all prayer that we can pray and move on with our day. It would be far easier if there was a “read this once” Bible verse and all of our problems grew smaller and smaller, like some sort of Alice in Wonderland cookie effect. But I haven’t found that to be true in my life. Instead, I’ve found that it involves the continual acts of kneeling before the throne, digging into the Word, talking with God, and laying down masks in the presence of Gospel-centered community.
Chances are these spiritual practices won’t make our trials go away. But they will shift our focus from our earthly troubles to our beautiful Maker. And when we shift our gazes, we might just see the fourth figure in the fire. We might just trust that God will rescue us from our deepest valleys and believe that even if we are sitting in the hurt for (what feels like) too long, He is still good. And we are never alone.