The following excerpt and poem is from Disguises of Love by Eddie Askew (former General Secretary of The Leprosy Mission).
My mind was drawn recently to the book of Daniel. Do you remember Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and their refusal to deny their God? The King threatens them with fire, but they affirm their faith in a God who is able to rescue them. And then comes a mind-catching phrase: “but even if he does not . . . still we will not serve your gods” (Daniel 3:18)
To begin with it’s an honest acknowledgement of the fact that things don’t always go right for God’s people. That’s pretty self-evident to anyone who looks at the world realistically, although I do meet blinkered Christians who seem to imply that if only we’d get right with the Lord – as individuals and as nations – everything in life would be fine! It just doesn’t happen that way. And it’s not always out fault – don’t get hung up searching for personal guilt when things go wrong, that’s just inhibiting. Faith isn’t an all-risks insurance policy. (On second thoughts: maybe it is. Insurance doesn’t prevent accidents but it gives you a secure base from which to face the consequences.) It isn’t a cure-all. If it were, if faith prevented the pain and the problems, the queues outside the church buildings would be enormous. Sometimes faith and pain go together, and it’s the unrighteous who have it good.
“But even if he doesn’t . . .” It’s also a courageous statement of faith in God’s purposes. Not necessarily accepting that whatever hits us comes straight from God – I’m wary of these over-simplifications of why calamities happen – but faith in the way he can and does use events to shape and refine us. A faith which springs from the experience of God-with-us through many crises. Ed Ingebretsen, an American Jesuit poet writes: . . . your violence, Lord, opens more worlds than closes; . . . we are stones, sons of black rock; crush the veins, grind, hew, hone. Free the waiting diamond . . . we are steel, straighten, stretch, fine – melt us, shape, thin us like strong wires. we are seed, dry, desiccated – rain us, green us as once we were: The harvest remembers not the cut.
He proclaims faith in his continuing love and concern, however hot the fire. Rescue may come or not; faith shows its strength in accepting at times, God’s non-intervention. It’s not a glib, easy acceptance. It takes courage simply to pray ‘but not my will’ and mean it!
Lord, that’s the way I’d like to live.
Looking life straight in the eye whatever comes.
Facing the reality of the world with your courage.
Not flinching at the furnace.
Staying faithful to you.
Hoping for rescue but standing up anyway. Upright, dependable.
Even when the consequences are clear to see. And frightening.
Finding the strength to stand firm.
Knowing that you are here, through good and bad.
The trouble is,
looking at me, you’d never believe it.
Because try as I may
the picture never looks like that.
However much I struggle with the outline
the details don’t fill in the way they should.
I look at the furnace, feel the heat,
and the sweat breaks out.
Not the hot sweat of commitment.
The cold sweat of fear.
And when I think about it
when I recognise the denial,
I can’t look myself in the eye.
Lift my head up, Lord,
so that as I look into your eyes
my shame evaporates
in the warmth of your love.
Give me the courage to start again.
And help me to see
that your love comes in many disguises.
Help me to grasp that truth,
more real than reality.
Teach me, teach all your children,
to feel your love,
not only in the gentle whispers of life,
but in the black boiling storm clouds
which threaten us with crisis.
Show us its presence
not only in birth-joy
but in the death of the seed.
Resurrection at the door of the tomb.
And, somehow, Lord,
give me the courage
to welcome your love
in all its disguises.