The Faithfulness of God
Last month marked the 30th anniversary of the movie The Princess Bride, which happens to be the only movie I have ever preferred to the book. It’s full of action, romance, and Rodents of Unusual Size. It is also full of great quotes.
“As you wish.”
“My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”
While some of these aren’t very useful in everyday conversation, there is one line from the movie I have found myself thinking often. Over the past couple years, I have heard lots of Christians talk about the “faithfulness of God.” This is a characteristic of God that is evident in scripture and that I have experienced personally. However, there have been times when I have heard Christians use this phrase and couldn’t help but think, in the words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Throughout scripture, God remains unfailingly faithful to his people, often despite their unfaithfulness to him. The following two stories from scripture, though vastly different in their outcomes, equally exemplify the faithfulness of God.
The first comes from Daniel 3, in which Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, built a giant golden statue of himself and commanded the people to worship it whenever the music sounded. Any who did not worship him would be thrown into a fiery furnace. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Jewish leaders in the king’s court and friends of Daniel, refused to worship the king because they were men of God. When Nebuchadnezzar found out, he was furious. He taunted the three men, asking which god it was that would rescue them from the furnace. Without flinching, the men responded, “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 (Daniel 3:17).”
In a dramatic and miraculous way, God rescued Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. In fact, when Nebuchadnezzar looked in the furnace, he saw not three, but four men standing, unbound, in the flames. When he called out to them, the three men calmly walked out of the furnace, not a single hair singed. They didn’t even smell of smoke. Nebuchadnezzar’s astonishment was evident in his response: he decreed protection for the people of God and dismemberment for any who spoke ill of the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. God was faithful to his servants, who risked their lives to obey and honor him, and in his faithfulness, he rescued them from the fiery furnace. In the words of the King Nebuchadnezzar, “there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way (Daniel 3:29).”
In Matthew 11 we read of another servant of God who followed him obediently, even risking his life to honor the Lord. John the Baptist, the prophet who introduced Christ to the people and baptized him at the inauguration of Jesus’ earthly ministry, was in prison. After publicly condemning the adulterous relationship between Herod and Herodias (Herod’s brother’s wife), John was in a precarious position, locked away in prison, essentially awaiting his execution. During his time in prison, he heard of Jesus’ continued ministry; Jesus was preaching and healing, bringing the good news to the broken. Hearing of these things, John sent a message to Jesus: “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another? (Matthew 11:3)”
John knew Jesus. As an unborn child, he leapt in his mother’s womb when a pregnant Mary was near, even then recognizing his Lord (Luke 1:41-42). He was the voice crying out in the desert, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” He witnessed the Holy Spirit like a dove descending on Jesus at his baptism, he heard the voice from heaven say, “This is my son, with whom I am well pleased (Luke 3:1-22).” He saw these signs himself. He heard Jesus speak the word of God. John knew Jesus was the Messiah, the Promised One, Emmanuel, God with us.
How often have we, like John, cried out to God in our suffering, “Lord, what about me?! Rescue me! Deliver me!” John knew Jesus was more than able to break him out of prison; but for some reason, Jesus hadn’t come for John yet, so he was still stuck in prison, facing death. Jesus responded to John’s question with proof that he is the Christ: “The blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them (Matthew 11:5).” Jesus might as well have said “John, you know I am the One.”
In the end, Jesus didn’t break John out of prison. He didn’t come riding in at the eleventh hour to rescue John from execution. John’s head was literally delivered to Herodias on a platter. When Jesus responded to John’s question, he wasn’t merely reassuring John of his identity, he was imploring John to trust him. If our God is faithful to us, truly faithful, can we not then trust him? If he will truly never leave or forsake us, can we not have confidence in him? Up until John’s final moment, God was with him. Not even the darkest evil could separate a beloved son from the Father (Romans 8:38-39). And after John’s final moment, he was with God, which is better by far (Philippians 2:23).
The scriptures reassure us frequently that God is faithful, there is no question about that. But what, exactly, does that mean? The faithfulness of God isn’t a guarantee that everything will go smoothly and nothing will ever hurt or be inconvenient. The faithfulness of God doesn’t mean good fortune in life and work and finances. The faithfulness of God doesn’t mean comfort and safety and an upper-middle class income with 2.5 children and a built to order house near the good schools. The faithfulness of God doesn’t mean we get everything we want, even if we want good things. If we reduce the faithfulness of God to feeling #blessed, we are missing the point by a mile.
Sometimes, our Lion of a God delivers us from the fiery furnace. Sometimes, he brings healing, changes our circumstances, and gives us what we deeply desire. And sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes our crappy circumstances get even crappier, and he asks us to keep trusting him. When we face hardships, stress, suffering, grief, pain, and death we can boldly shout in the face of our struggles, “My God whom I serve is able to deliver me!” We can face hurt, hatred, and rejection with confidence in our Lord’s ability to rescue us from it. But with as much confidence as we have in his power, we must also have confidence in his love. To those same trials, hurts, and suffering we must also be able to say with confidence, “But even if not, my God is still good.”