Sometimes it’s the lion’s den. Other times, it’s the despot’s dungeon. Either way, we worship and we wait.
Faithfully following God doesn’t shield us from earthly calamity; on the contrary, it may lead us out of comfort and into danger, isolation, destitution, illness. We can be near to the Lord and still experience suffering.
We are in a global pandemic currently. People are suffering and dying. People are losing their livelihoods and communities. This invisible illness has revealed the naked truth that neither faith nor suffering are beholden to zip codes. Many Christians in the United States have been lulled into comfortable complacency simply because we were born in a zip code without war, with access to food, shelter, and a sense of place. This sense of privileged security has been bound up in Christianity like a tare is bound to wheat. Where our faith lies during the pandemic is where we put our trust in times of peace. This is a winnowing—and that is a mercy in the midst of plague.
You probably know the story of Daniel from Daniel 6. A Jewish exile forced to serve in the kingdom of his captors, the Medes and Persians (and Babylonians before that), Daniel served with distinction, and remained conspicuously faithful to his God. Governors of the kingdom didn’t want to share power with some Hebrew, so they exploited state law to land Daniel in the den of lions (what’s legal isn’t always what’s right).
God was with Daniel, but allowed him to be lowered into the den. God was with Daniel, and spared his life. Of Daniel, it was said, “when Daniel was lifted from the den, no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God (Daniel 6:23)”. Daniel’s life was a testimony to the king.
But there’s also the dungeon. John the Baptist, forerunner to the Son of God, cousin of Jesus, prophesied faithfully and was filled with the Holy Spirit from the time he inhabited his mother’s womb. He spoke boldly to Herod, who was committing adultery with his brother’s wife.
God was with John the Baptist, but allowed him to be lowered into the dungeon. Jesus loved John, but John still asked, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else (Matthew 11:3)”? God was with John, and John was beheaded. John’s death was a testimony to Jesus’ disciples.
Our faith in God needs to hold space for both the den and the dungeon. The times of unwavering trust in the midst of trial and the times of fear and doubt—both of these responses stretch and mature our faith in God when we look to Him for deliverance, action, trust, and love.
Remember: we serve a Savior who prayed with sweat and blood for the cup of crucifixion to pass from Him, yet relented wholly to the will of the Father (Matthew 26:39). This is who we worship: the God-man who emptied Himself and was obedient to the point of death. Why would we expect a comfortable life serving a Savior like this?
This isn’t a guilt trip; it’s a reality check. In this world, we will have trouble. Right now, we can see the evidence of it, the world over. Some Christians, in Syria, Palestine, China, Venezuela, Cameroon, Nigeria, Haiti—some of our brothers and sisters in the faith already know this all too well. All of our eyes are open to it now. And that, again, is a mercy.
The thin line between spiritual and physical, and the pilgrim status of the faith has been laid bare. This earth couldn’t look less like heaven. Hold on to this distress, this grief. This grief ties us to those suffering worldwide, and also tethers us to a better hope. It’s a sign that we ought not be satisfied. Not yet.
Remember the den and the dungeon. Remember Gethsemane. A place of fear and lament. A garden. A place where the seed dies and the mystery of life and growth begins. Worship. Wait. And yield to God’s will.