The Bible records the wonderful testimonies of God’s deliverance. There was Lot, who was brought out of fire and sulphur by angels. There was Hezekiah, whose life was extended when he was about to die. There was Peter, who was freed from a secure prison by an angel. And there was Paul, whose boat did not sink in the storm because God had already assured him of safety.
The Bible describes the outcomes for people who obeyed the commandments of God and those who did not. We know that the former receive peace, health, and blessings in abundance. There are many biblical examples of God’s people who received His protection, healing, and deliverance. On the other hand, the disobedient were punished with curses, calamities, pestilences, illnesses, and afflictions.
These accounts lead us to a simple equation: as long as we keep God’s commandments, His peace and joy will definitely come upon us. And from there, we extrapolate, as long as we make our offerings to the Lord and serve Him, He will shower us with abundance. Hence, many churches—particularly megachurches—will declare that it is impossible for those with unwavering faith in God to meet with misfortune. Is such a theological stance correct?
IF THIS BE SO: FAITH IN GOD AND HIS WORKS
In Daniel chapter 3, we read how Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, built an enormous image of gold. Its height was sixty cubits and its width six cubits—approximately the height of a six- to seven-story building, and the width of a small car. The king then invited high officials from all over the provinces to gather before the golden image. He commanded these people of different nations and languages to fall down and worship the image once they heard music played from various instruments. When that moment came, everyone except Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, the three friends of Daniel, did so.
The enraged King Nebuchadnezzar commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego be brought before him. And Nebuchadnezzar said to them:
“Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image which I have set up? Now if you are ready at the time you hear the sound of the horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, and you fall down and worship the image which I have made, good! But if you do not worship, you shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you from my hands?” (Dan 3:14–15)
The king gave them one last chance to choose between life and death. But instead of submitting quickly and gratefully, they told the powerful Babylonian monarch:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, 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.” (Dan 3:16–17, ESV)
In a nutshell, the three men were saying that a second chance to choose or speak further was unnecessary. They were prepared to die. Nevertheless, they had full confidence in the deliverance and protection of God. This is the kind of faith many of us have or ought to have. What should the basis of such a faith be?
Critically, we must have faith in God’s divine attributes and His works. God’s attributes include love, mercy, compassion, goodness, holiness, and righteousness. Salvation is one of the works aligned with these attributes. Other works of God arising out of His attributes include His creation, punishment, protection, and examination of man. We must believe that God’s works cannot and will not contradict His divine attributes. Since the two are inseparable, if we question God’s works, we would essentially be questioning His attributes, which means that we doubt Him. In the case of Daniel’s three friends, their response to the king reflected their unwavering faith that the God they worshiped is the Almighty God who will deliver them.
From the Scriptures, we have seen God deliver men thrown into the fiery furnace, and repeatedly save His people from the hands of powerful monarchs. When the Israelites were trapped between Egypt’s pursuing army and a deep sea, God parted the Red Sea for them to cross. When a man died of an illness, God raised him to life. This is the God we worship and serve today. We must have the faith aptly articulated as an “if this be so” faith—the absolute conviction that God is able, and that nothing is impossible for God.
TESTING GOD VERSUS FAITH IN GOD
While we believe wholeheartedly that our God can do anything, faith is not an excuse or opportunity for us to test God. Matthew 4:3 records that when Jesus was hungry in the wilderness, Satan said to him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” Jesus could have easily done this. But He not only refused to, He also said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Mt 4:4b). These were the words of God (Deut 8:3). What Jesus said was absolutely right, though this statement would not assuage His hunger. However, between being hungry and testing God, Jesus chose to be hungry. Between food and the word of God, Jesus chose the word of God.
It was not that God lacked power, or that there was a problem with Jesus’ faith. However, believing in the heavenly Father and the Father’s power did not mean that Jesus could test God. Satan challenged Jesus to turn the stones into food to prove He really was God’s Son. But Jesus was not led by the flesh. Nor did He allow hunger to impair His judgment. He knew that if He fell for Satan’s ploy and turned the stones into bread, He would have tested God and dishonored His holy name.
Imagine we were in a similar situation today: if we lack spiritual wisdom, we may feel the need to defend our status as the child of God. We may be driven by a sense of bravado to respond to Satan’s challenge—to “produce” a miracle that confirms God is with us. We would justify to ourselves that we are protecting God’s honorable reputation. We may also think that such occasions are an excellent opportunity to prove our status as God’s child, flaunt our heavenly Father’s power, and silence God’s enemy by showing that God is protecting us. And so we call on God, and push Him to perform the miracle we want to see, without first reflecting whether this is the miracle God wants to perform. In times such as these, we need to honestly ask ourselves: What are we trying to prove? That we are right? Or that God is true?
When the three friends of Daniel defied the king’s command, they were not trying to prove that they were sons of God. They were not trying to flaunt God’s power by showing that they would never be physically harmed. Their starting premise was simple: they believed that there is only one true God, and man must not bow down to any other. Obeying the king’s command to worship the golden image was in direct violation of the Ten Commandments, the absolute foundation of their faith. So their words and actions were driven not by a desire to test God, but by a reverence for God.
This is thus the crucial difference between testing God and having faith in God. In the former, we elevate ourselves above God, treating Him as our on-call miracle performer. But in the latter, we do all things to honor God and God alone.
BUT IF NOT: STEADFAST BELIEF IN GOD’S SOVEREIGNTY
“But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” (Dan 3:18, ESV)
After declaring their confidence that God would deliver them, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego added that even if God was not going to deliver them, they would still not serve the Babylonian deities. This is an equally important aspect of faith. We must not stop at the stage of Daniel 3:17, declaring “If this be so…” and manifesting our trust in God’s deliverance. True faith encompasses the following verse, where we also declare, “But if not…”. This second aspect demonstrates our acceptance of God’s sovereignty.
God is almighty and can do all things. He can heal, deliver from death, or save anyone at any time. But as the sovereign Creator, He has the absolute right to decide whether He wants to act. As His creatures, none of us can supersede His sovereignty. And as His believers, none of us should challenge it. However, not every believer has this “but if not” faith. Some are unable to accept that God’s plans for them are different from their own. If they are sick, God must heal them. If they are in trouble, God must deliver them in the way, and at the time, that they (and not God) decide. They believe that as long as they obey His words, attend church frequently, pray regularly, serve Him diligently and offer willingly, God has no choice but to protect them, heal them, and grant their requests. Although their lips mutter, “Thy will be done,” their hearts think, God, You have to answer our prayer because of our faith in You, our godliness, and our loyalty towards You! This is tantamount to wresting sovereignty from God.
A complete faith encompasses both “if this be so” and “but if not.” A complete understanding of God is both a belief in His almightiness and an acceptance of His sovereignty. When we recognize God’s sovereignty and have the faith to say “but if not,” we will be able to submit to all His arrangements and to His commands.
He went a little farther and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” (Mt 26:39)
When Jesus was on earth, the heavenly Father wanted Him to die on the cross. Jesus prayed three times over this matter, not wishing to drink the bitter cup (Mt 26:36–44). However, His “but if not” faith can be seen from His words “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” He believed in the heavenly Father’s better and more beautiful will. He submitted to God to the point of dying on the cross.
When we can submit to God’s sovereignty, we can accept whatever situation He puts us in, whatever lesson we have to learn. This “but if not” faith is beautifully manifested as humble submission. Biblical examples show us that faithful people of God may not always enjoy materially rich or plain-sailing lives. They may not always enjoy good health and safety. Job, the upright man who feared God and shunned evil, was afflicted—all his children died, and his body was covered with sores (Job 1–2). Jeremiah, the prophet of God, preached God’s message faithfully, but was thrown into an empty well (Jer 38). Lazarus lived the difficult life of a beggar, was covered with sores, and yearned to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table (Lk 16:19–31).
Some received deliverance, such as the three friends of Daniel. However, others did not. Jesus’ disciples were faithful workers, but God did not give each of them a nice, peaceful death in old age. According to church history, the apostle Paul was beheaded, and Peter was crucified upside down. Some exemplary believers were raised to heaven without going through death, like Enoch (Gen 5:21–24). But some died a horrible and agonizing death, such as Stephen, who was stoned (Acts 7:59–60). No matter what, as children of God, the most important things are to obey and practice His commandments, to love Him with all our heart and might, and to love others. We may be afflicted and persecuted on earth, but our endurance will not be in vain (Rev 6:11).
If we have been fervent in hearing and practicing the word of God, but still experience afflictions, pestilences, illnesses, or other difficulties, let us not doubt God’s almightiness or His faithfulness. We have to fully believe in His great love and continue to trust that nothing is impossible for Him—He can save, heal, and protect. Such faith should not include the intention to test God. Also, we need to believe in God’s sovereignty, and that He has His timing. God has prepared a better arrangement, an ideal way, a more beautiful will. Whether God’s will and path for us be smooth or otherwise, it will be for our good (Rom 8:28). Cling on to this promise, and we will be able to submit to all of God’s plans.
May God help us to cultivate this complete faith that allows us to truly declare:
“If this be so” that we have to suffer sickness, God will deliver us; “but if not,” we will still praise Him.
“If this be so” that we are faced with pestilence, God will destroy it; “but if not,” we will not abandon our faith.
“If this be so” that we encounter difficulties, God will solve our problems; “but if not,” we will not leave Him, and we will remain faithful until death.
 The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.