I once attended a non-denominational women’s Bible study, and each week we discussed the passage of scripture in small groups. I loved some things about it: the mix of ages, learning from other women’s life and faith experiences, praying for each other. Overall, it was a great experience.
But, I’ll never forget one day when one of my group members began telling us about her pregnancy. She asked for prayer, and she was visibly emotional as she explained to us that she had lost a late-term baby during her last pregnancy. She tearfully told us that God had spoken to her and had assured her that this pregnancy would be different. She believed He had promised her that this baby would be perfectly fine, and she told us so with confident conviction. “He isn’t going to let anything happen this time,” she said. “I’m holding on to His promise.”
Even as she spoke the words, I cringed inside. I joined in as we surrounded her and cried out to God on behalf of the little child that was growing inside of her. Yet, none of us really knew how this situation was going to turn out. Least of all the mama who was determined that God had offered her a special revelation about her baby.
I left there that day praying another prayer. I prayed that God would help the poor little mother’s shaken faith recover if the baby somehow didn’t make it to term.
Someone had taught her wrong thinking about God. Somewhere along her Christian path, some teacher or mentor had told this woman that God is good because He does what seems right to us. She had been taught that we are to name what we want and claim it territorially, as if we can instruct God on the best way to do things. And, in her desperation to hold onto the hope that she would never again have to endure the death of a child, she convinced herself that God had promised her that she would never have to.
A few weeks later, she suddenly stopped attending Bible study. Our group leader contacted her and learned that, despite the “promise” that she thought God had made, that young mother had lost yet another baby, and her faith was rocked right down to its very foundation. She had wrongly assumed that God would do what she desperately wanted Him to do, and when He didn’t, she crumpled with hopelessness, partly because of her terrible grief, and partly because of some bad teaching that misrepresented the character and sovereignty of God.
It is possible to grieve the end of our plans while still maintaining hope for the future. It’s possible to beg God for one outcome, and still praise Him in the middle of a different outcome. It’s possible to love and trust God when He doesn’t choose to rescue us or a loved one. It’s completely possible to be living through the most horrific hell we can imagine on this earth and still love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.
But, only if we have a proper understanding of our place within His unsearchable, sovereign will.
Our position as His creation cannot be that He should do as we demand. It cannot be that He is only good if He gives us what we want. It cannot be that His love is spelled out by how satisfied I am with His answers to my prayers. Yet, it is possible to have great hope and security in His ability to rescue us while also having great faith that even if He doesn’t, we can trust Him and He is good.
In the book of Daniel, three young men demonstrate this balance to perfection. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago are ordered by King Nebuchadnezzar to bow down to false gods. They refuse to do so and face the king’s wrath in the form of a furnace that was built to burn seven times hotter than usual. It is so hot that the guards who tie the boys up to throw them inside die just by getting that close to the opening where the fire rages. Before they are thrown to their certain death, the three Hebrew boys explain to the King the kind of faith that they have in the one true God: 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. (Daniel 3:17-18)
Their answer to the King’s threat shows three elements of a healthy view of their position in God’s sovereign plan.
1. The God we serve is able to deliver us from it. First, the boys acknowledge that God is perfectly capable of saving them. Their faith says that He is all-powerful, and nothing that the king can dream up to do to them is beyond the reach and rescue of the God of Heaven.
2. He will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. Next, they demonstrate that their faith allows them confidence that God will save them. They are believing even as they stand before the raging furnace that there is hope of their salvation. (And, should they die in the fire, no rescue for their human bodies, they know that rescue still awaits on the other side of death. So, whether they walk out of the fire or not, they are not left without the hope of God’s rescue plan.)
3. But, even if He doesn’t… Last, the three Hebrew boys show that they understand that His ways are higher than theirs. It’s God’s prerogative to resolve this situation as He knows is best. So, even if He doesn’t rescue them, He is still good, He is still powerful, He is still holy, He is still righteous.
In the end, God does rescue Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednago. God is the great hero of the story, and the boys go on to live influential and fruitful lives. But, what if the three boys had been thrown into the fire and were immediately turned into nothing more than a heap of ash? After all, we see bad things happen to amazing people all the time. So many human stories end with no miraculous turn-around. No obvious, supernatural display of God’s immense power. Just the mysteries of what comes after death. The hope that we cling to that somehow, some way, God is making sense out of all of the tragedy and heart break.
Are we coming to the place in our spiritual growth where we can pray in earnest, like Jesus, not my will, but Yours be done? Are we blossoming into Christ-followers who can testify to God’s sovereignty, holding our faith in His power in one hand while we also cling to our faith in His goodness, saying, But, even if He doesn’t…?
Are we growing into Jesus-trusting mothers who can beg God to heal our children while also shouting from the depths of our souls, If He doesn’t, He is still good?
I don’t know what happened to that precious mother who lost two babies and then lost a sense of her faith in God. I hope that she came to trust Him more in the end. I hope I would, too. When the bad things come, when the kind of rescue we think we need just isn’t part of our story, will we be able to testify before a watching world that God can do it, that He will do it, but even if He doesn’t, we won’t turn away. We won’t lose hope. We won’t lose faith. And, we will say forever and ever, He is good.