But If Not

Walking into Suffering with Faith

“Do not worry, my friend,” he told me. “If God does as we have discussed, I trust that he will bring about something wonderful from it.”

Do not worry. The irony could not be more apparent. It was he, not I, that was headed home to a hostile country. It was he, not I, that had already received death threats from former Muslim friends who awaited him there. And it was he, not I, who sought to comfort others in the hours before his departure.

If God does as we have discussed — that was one way to summarize it. After forty minutes, he shared story after story of what his government, friends, and family had done to those even accused of following Jesus. Some were brought in for “questioning” and never seen again. Some had been publicly executed as examples to deter others, like my friend, from calling Jesus Lord. Excommunication from family seemed to be the most merciful of potential outcomes.

He was going home to tell them about his Lord. He may have been going to his death. We had studied texts like 1 Peter and Romans 8 together preparing to suffer well. We prayed, and he left, confident that God could protect him from all harm if God desired it, but he trusted that if God didn’t, God would do something better through it.

God of Possibility

Whether this extreme or not, God indeed can deliver us from any afflictions we face.

He can deliver from oppression. He can keep his people from persecution. Jesus teaches us to pray, “Deliver us from evil,” because God can. But of course, all of this is easy to say when we’re not suffering or threatened. “God is sovereign over my cancer” is difficult to announce. Harder yet, “God is sovereign over my wife’s cancer.” Harder still, “God is in control over my daughter’s terminal illness.” The glorious truth of God’s sovereignty can be hard to look at in such seasons.

But the question we all must answer within this brief moment in eternity, is this: If God does not do what we know he can — cure, redeem, repair — will we trust him? If he refuses to answer our pleas in the ways we expect, will we love him, obey him, and endure in faith till the end?

Will we, after praying to him about our deepest pains and sorest bruises, after casting burdens upon him so heavy that they daily threaten to break our will to go on — will we, after experiencing sorrow so paralyzing that we have trouble to even cry — will we, along with my friend, and three young Jewish boys facing a fiery furnace, defiantly say, “But if not . . .”?

But If Not

Refusing to bow — even to avoid being burned alive — they stood before the king of Babylon and the massive gold statue of himself. Nebuchadnezzar thought he was a god. He demanded their worship. But three young boys bowed their knees only to the true God, and so they declared, when summoned to kneel,

“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 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 3:16–18)

Other Israelites lay prostrate around them. They alone stood sounding the proclamation of faith available to us today, “My God will deliver me — but if not, still I will trust him. The Lord is strong enough to rescue me if he chooses. But if not, I will not give in to sin. My God is able to heal me if he decides it best. But if not, I will not forsake my confession of faith. My God can undo this disability if he but speaks the word. But if not, I will trust in the God who will raise me from the dead.”

We can join the faithful and say, “Take my Isaac, take my family and servants, take my health from me, and I shall sing, ‘It is well with my soul.’ I will contend, ‘I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ I will reason, ‘I consider the present sufferings as light and momentary compared to what awaits me.’ I will resolve, ‘Although the earth quake and the mountains be thrust into the sea, I will not fear nor be moved.’”

I will not run. I will not hide. I will boast in my weakness. I will tell my mockers, “Though he slays me, yet will I trust him!” I will state plainly, “I know my Redeemer lives!”

And I will pray, oh, will I pray, “Lord, deliver me from evil.” I will pray, “Father, let this cup pass from me.” I will pray, “O my God, let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.” But I also will pray, “But not my will, but yours, be done.”

And when I despair of life itself, I implore my Savior, “Satisfy me in the morning with your steadfast love.” And when doubt tempts me, I will pray, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” And should my enemy prevail over me in this life, should they pelt me with rocks, sending me to the Rock of ages, I will pray, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on them.” And, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!”

Standing in the Flames

Do you feel like you’re sliding down the shoot into the furnace? Do you feel like you’re already standing in the flames which are burning seven times hotter than usual (Daniel 3:19)? Do you feel like you simply cannot keep going? Do you see that fourth person standing in the flames with you (Daniel 3:25)?

Do you see him sympathizing with you? Do you see him suffer for you? As all else fails, is he enough for you? Do you believe his promise that soon you will suffer no more? Do you see him with you? Do you know the depths of his love for you? Do you know he is strengthening you, even in this, even now? Are his scarred hands holding yours as he whispers of glory to come?

Or has the deceiver stolen your courage from you? Has he been sowing doubt in your heart? Are you on the brink of dying — not because of the flames touching your body, but because they have begun to singe your faith? Has hope deferred made your heart sick?

Do not grow weary of doing good. Do not give up in the fight of faith. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary. You may not be delivered from this furnace, but you will rise from it to a place where agony cannot follow. In the grace that God supplies, stand and say, “My God is able to deliver me from this nightmare if he chooses. But if not, I will bless his holy name and wake to see his face in glory.”