ost of us know the familiar stories of the Bible so well that we forget they weren’t scripted to turn out the way they did, that those experiencing them hadn’t read the rest of the story.
Consider how different our faith might be if these stories had happened in these ways:
Daniel: There was once a mighty king. He decreed that anyone caught praying to anyone but himself would be thrown to the lions. Daniel decided he would pray quietly, in his heart, and no one would ever know. And they didn’t. The end.
Noah: And God said, “The sin of this people is too much: build an ark and I will save your family.” And Noah said, “Out where all the people can see? Let me think on it.” The end.
The Hebrew Worthies: There was once a towering idol, to which all the people were commanded to bow, even though they knew it was wrong. So they did. The end.
And the angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, “Blessed are you among women. You shall bear a son, and He shall save His people from their sins.” And Mary said, “I’m honored, but I don’t feel ready for this. Surely there is someone older and wiser who would do a better job. I think you should ask her.” So he did. The end.
These are not the outcomes we remember from our childhood, praise God! These children of God were fallen humans, just like us. They could have responded as we often do, with a lot of foot-shuffling, blame-shifting, and truth-hiding. Just think about it: if these chosen few hadn’t determined to stand for truth “though the heavens fall,” where would be our mentors in the faith? How many of us would have sorely missed just the encouragement we needed to take a stand ourselves?
And consider the tragic cost to these characters if they had missed what their stories taught them. For Daniel to have missed spending the night at peace with the lions; for Noah to have missed out on his part in saving his family and nation from the Flood; for the Hebrew youth to have missed walking and talking in the flames with the Son of God! What tragedies these would have been! And what sad memories of the road not taken.
I imagine that, somewhere in Babylon, a Hebrew child is asking his father, for at least the hundredth time, “Daddy, tell me the story of the Oven and the Idol!” And after his father tells the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for at least the hundredth time, the child asks excitedly, “Daddy, did you see this yourself?” “Oh, yes,” the daddy assures him, “I saw it with my very own eyes.” “Then, Daddy,” the child asks quietly, “where were you?”
What have we missed, I wonder, when we haven’t answered the call to stand for what, and Who, we believe? How often have we missed out on the gift of certain peace in the very middle of a beast of a problem? What opportunities have we squandered to shape the faith and future of our families and friends? How often have we missed the precious opportunity to walk and talk with the Son of God as He fellowships with us through a fiery trial? What a tragedy to have missed the character development that comes from doing what is difficult because it is right, the faith that comes from holding on to His hand even when we can’t see a way out!
Fortunately, our stories’ endings are not yet written. May they be stories of simple Christians, called by God to take a stand.
Valerie N. Phillips is the associate director of the women’s residence hall at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, where she has ministered to collegiate women for more than 25 years.