Today was TOG Co-op. We just finished Week 22 of Tapestry of Grace Yr. 1, in which we learned about the Neo-Babylonian Empire, the fall of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Jewish people to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar. We read the book of Daniel, and I was struck again by the unswerving faith of young Daniel and his friends, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abed-nego). Although they adapted to their situation by serving the Babylonian king dutifully and with excellence , they would not compromise their belief in the one true God by bowing down to golden statues and idols, even if it cost them their lives.
"Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, "Is it true... that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?"
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown in to the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."
Wow. I am humbled when I read those words, because I have never had to face such a decision as that. How would I measure up? I don't think we can ever know, until we do face something enormous in our lives. One thing that is clear to me is that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn't come to their faith in an instant. The foundation was laid in their childhoods, in faithful homes where they were taught to love and serve the Lord God by their parents and extended family. By the time they were young adults, that faith became such a part of the fabric of their lives that it couldn't be separated or removed, even when they were taken captive and sent far away from the familiarity and security of home and loved ones. They didn't just know about God, they knew Him! They knew without a shadow of a doubt that he could save them from any calamity, but their devotion wasn't dependent on what God did... just who He was.
Years ago I heard this story about the British Army at Dunkirk, and I shared it with my Co-op class today.
In early 1940 the British and their allies sent a force of some 350,000 men into the low countries of Europe to stem the tide of German advance into France, Belgium and Holland. Caught in a brilliant pincer movement by the invading German forces the beleaguered British Expeditionary Force was pushed back to the beaches of the small Belgian town of Dunkirk. To everyones surprise the Germans halted their advance to regroup. As England and the world waited for what appeared to be the sure and certain annihilation of 350,000 men a three word message was transmitted from the besieged army at Dunkirk. It read simply, "But if not." The British people understood the biblical import of the cryptic message. It was a reference to the Old Testament book of Daniel, where Daniel and his friends chose death rather than worship an image of the pagan king, "If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Daniel 3:17-18). The British Expeditionary Army, surrounded, cutoff and on the brink of destruction was declaring to Britain and to the world that even in apparent defeat they were, in fact, victorious. The message, more eloquent than a sermon delivered in St. Paul's Cathedral, galvanized the British people. In a matter of hours thousands of boats of every description headed across the dangerous waters of the English Channel and, at the risk of their own lives from enemy fire, began the evacuation of the heroic but beleaguered army in what historians now refer to as "the miracle of Dunkirk."
The amazing thing to me is that the British people in 1940 had a collective understanding of what the phrase "But if not" referred to! They understood, and were inspired to act by the deep faith and conviction which those words represented. How many people today would have a clue? But there was a foundation.... a common biblical literacy that seems to have evaporated over the last 60 years.
I also think about the Estes family, who have a precious little boy with a mitochondrial defect. This illness is devastating, and he has been hospitalized frequently with very serious and sometimes baffling symptoms. In the midst of their exhaustion and pain and concern for their little boy, Jeff and Kate possess a deep faith in God which sustains them, and allows them to publish on their blog frequent lists of things they are thankful for, even in very dark circumstances. They know that God could choose to heal their baby, and also know that God loves them and is trustworthy and sovereign, even if He doesn't. Their faith has a firm foundation, and they are now laying that foundation in the lives of their children.
I hope that Mark and I are laying that kind of foundation in our children's lives. I know I need to continually work on having that kind of faith myself.