The Road Less Traveled – Flip ‘The Great IF’ In Your View of God 


By Jason Herring 

Before Power Point there was flannelgraph. If you grew up in Sunday School like I did, then you might know what I’m talking about although I’m dating myself here. There was a large piece of cardboard covered with flannel and then the teacher would place Bible characters and props on the board that seemed to magically stay in place as she told the story. There was such suspense waiting on the next piece to be placed on the board as the story unfolded! Long before Veggie Tales, this was how kids visualized and connected with the great stories of the Bible, and it’s where I first remember hearing the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego or the Three Hebrew Children in the Fiery Furnace. 

You’re probably familiar with how the story goes. The three Hebrew youths were part of thousands of Jews who had been taken captive to Babylon after the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonian army. Those who were bright and good-looking were made to serve as eunuchs in the palace. Their Hebrew names that paid tribute to Elohim and Yah the God of Israel were replaced with Babylonian names to reflect the gods of Babylon. And thus, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego are introduced into the Old Testament narrative. 

Against our protagonists stands King Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar was not only king of Babylon but the greatest ruler in the Chaldean dynasty, having conquered the Assyrian Empire making Babylon the dominant power in the Near East. He built the renowned Ishtar Gate and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon that were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. There was nothing this guy couldn’t do, and he was full of the favor of the gods and himself. 

Daniel, a peer of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, had interpreted a dream for Nebuchadnezzar of a giant image made of gold, silver, brass, and iron mixed with clay. Babylon was the head of gold with succeeding empires representing the other elements until a giant rock came and smashed the statue to pieces. Nebuchadnezzar apparently forgot about the huge boulder part of the dream and decided to build a massive golden statue of himself and commanded the citizens of Babylon to prostrate before it and worship him. As an incentive, he built a giant fiery furnace and decreed that those who would not bow down would be burned to death. (Nazi Germany anyone? Those who do not bow to the god-state will be burned in ovens?) 

At the grand ceremony of the king’s colossal ego, the signal is given to bow down and worship the statue, and only Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego remain standing in defiance to the king’s decree. When they are arrested and brought before the monarch, he explodes in narcissistic rage and threatens to throw them in the fiery furnace. The response from the three young men is legendary. “We will not bow. We will not worship your image. Our God will save us … 

“But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:18) 

But. If. Not. But if our God does not save us from the fiery furnace, but if our God does not deliver us from your hand, we will not worship your gods or bow to your image. 

Now flash forward to the New Testament scene at the cross where a jeering mob is mocking the Crucified Savior. “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” (Matthew 27:40) How could He be the Messiah? The Messiah was supposed to restore Israel, which meant first and foremost throwing off the Roman yoke of occupation and tribute. This Guy ate with tribute collectors and conversed with centurions. And now He’s being publicly executed by the very people that He was supposed to conquer! He can’t even save Himself much less Israel. He’s not my Messiah. 

The great IF is one of the oldest strategies of our adversary. When he tempted Christ for forty days in the wilderness, he demanded of Him: “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones be made bread.” “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from the top of the Temple …” And then he used Scripture: “For it is written that His angels will bear You up unless You should dash Your foot on a stone.” (Luke 4:1-10) 

Do we hear the same things now? “If He is the Son of God, let Him give you money, for as it is written: ‘wealth and riches will be in his house.’” “If He is the Son of God, let Him give you this promotion that you’ve been longing for; for as it is written: ‘whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.’” “If He is the Son of God, let Him save my child from cancer, for as it is written: ‘He heals all your diseases.’” “If He is the Son of God, let Him make me healthy and happy, for as it is written: ‘length of days, long life and peace, shall they add to thee.’ 

We buy into this logic and find ourselves standing at the foot of the cross looking up at a bloodied Man, mangled beyond recognition, and asking: “If You be the Son of God, ________ [fill in the blank].” Change my circumstances. Give me this. Make me happy. If You are indeed Who You say You are. If not, then You are not the Messiah for me. If You can’t save me from my situation, then You’re not much of a Savior, are You? 

Ah, the great “IF”! 

If God always came through for us exactly when we asked, how we asked, with what we asked for, there wouldn’t be much faith involved. We would be self-entitled, spoiled brats so far removed from the maturity of Job, the Jews in captivity and the faith of the Apostles. God does not always meet our expectations. And IF we demand that God does meet our expectations, we are guilty of idolatry. Like Babylon that was built near the old ruins of the Tower of Babel, we are making God in our image and in our likeness according to our whims and our desires rather than being transformed and conformed to His image and His likeness Who took on the form of a servant, not using His Godhood to His advantage, making Himself of no reputation, despising the shame, and enduring the cross. 

Let me conclude. We have to flip the great “IF” on our adversary, and declare: “But IF not …” That is the blank that we have to fill in. And how we fill in that blank in times of adversity will show the measure of our faith in an unseen God. Can we trust God in the worst of times? If we believe, we will find ourselves standing with our larger than life heroes in the plain of Dura or next to an ash heap in the Land of Uz or in a crowded coliseum in Rome or perhaps in a quiet garden next to an olive tree praying, “Nevertheless (but if not), not my will, Father, but Your will be done.” 


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