One of the finest of many great gifts my mother gave me when I was just a little guy was reading to me. Most of all, she read me Bible stories.
Since I wasn’t a declared English major in my youngest days (that came later), and since Mom was smart, she didn’t, when I was little, read the stories straight from the King James or any other Bible version; she read them from a couple of really good Bible story books. I suspect that she also edited and embellished a bit as she went, at least in places where she found the story books a bit inaccurate or lacking.
The best thing about the story books (I still have them) was that they had great pictures. I still have those, too. They’re tattooed into my brain and, unlike most tattoos, won’t go out of style, leaving you with the equivalent of having your high school senior pic, coolness date long since expired, grafted onto your saggy bicep.
One of my favorite stories was from Daniel 3. It was the story of “Three Men in a Furnace.” Pictured in the illustration is quite a mighty fire, and pictured in the fire are four fellows, not three. The text of both the Bible and the story book agreed with the picture. (Read Daniel 3.)
We called them the “three Hebrew children.” I don’t know why. Children they were not. They were some of most impressive of the Israelites taken captive by the Babylonians. These three—renamed Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (I liked the names)—were from Judah and had been specifically trained for service in the king’s court.
I’m not sure how the three felt about their lot, but it could have been worse. Well, right up until the time when it got a lot worse.
King Nebuchadnezzar, suddenly afflicted by the kind of modern-as-tomorrow fit of megalomania that you’ve probably noticed powerful world leaders still regularly fall prey to, ordered a 90-foot-tall, gold-plated idol to be built. When he struck up the band, all of his people were to bow, nose down in the dirt, or else be tossed into a furnace of fire.
You really should read the story. I’m abbreviating ruthlessly as I just tell you that our three men of faith didn’t need more than the one God, would not worship the idol, and, after they courteously and consistently defied the king’s order, were thrown into a turbo-charged fire where they were joined by a strikingly glorious fourth figure. They came away unharmed, un-toasted, and highly respected. And ol’ King Neb learned an important lesson from the highest King.
Oh, I loved that story of great faith in action and of God’s salvation and power. I still do. The outcome is utterly amazing.
But I think that now the most striking part of the story to me is not the obvious miracle but is found in what those three heroes actually said to the king as they affirmed their faith. The “God we serve is able to save us,” they said, but “even if he does not, we will not serve your gods.”
Even. If. He. Does. Not.
God may give me exactly the answer to my prayer that I want. He may amaze and astound me. But you tell me which takes greater faith: to see the fourth figure present in the fiery furnace in Daniel 3 or to trust that he is walking with you through the fiery trial you face right now “even if” the show-stopping miracle you want seems not to be in God’s present plan?
I submit that God’s presence in both is very real.
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Copyright 2018 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.