One of the more remarkable incidents in the book of Daniel is when King Nebuchadnezzar decides that three of his Hebrew subjects had shown the kind of treasonous disobedience that merited death by incineration. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego stood accused in front of a huge blaze that had been stoked in their honour, sweat running down their faces, perhaps with their knees knocking. I wonder if Nebuchadnezzar’s eyes were drawn to those knees? Knees that had refused to give him what he wanted, that had refused to bend. Knees that dared to come before him now without a hint of the compacted dust and dirt which would have shown deference. Knees that had dared to suggest that there was a limit to his majesty and power.
Knees that would soon learn that knees that didn’t kneel didn’t stand a chance.
And while Nebuchadnezzar is perhaps looking at the knees that maybe knocked and the running sweat is possibly starting to make their eyes sting, one of them, or all three of them in unison, answered the question the King had hung in the heated air. "Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from it and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if he doesn't, it wouldn't make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn't serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up."
Such humility in the midst of such confidence. It’s a phenomenal statement. Confidence in the power of their God. Humility that would keep them for speaking for him, that would make clear to them the error of pretending to know what he might do at any given moment. Humility and confidence which would see them choose painful death over bowing to a different master. In this statement I think we see something of the safe insecurity which marks the life Jesus offers with his promises of abundance and his warnings of suffering.
God may well choose to reward actions of faith as he seems to do for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. After his run in with a den of lions, Daniel says he was saved because ultimately he was considered “blameless”. But God does not promise this. What he does actually promise us is that things are going to be hard. That life is going to be unfair. That when we follow him we might suffer because some people won’t understand what we are doing and others might even hate us for it. When we leave Daniel and company, things have gone pretty well, lots of rescues and lots of promotions have come their way. But they would never see freedom, they would never go home again. Even when we follow faithfully and closely and even though he is in control, God does not promise us safety in this world. Shane Claiborne’s Mum says, “I have come to see that we Christians are not called to safety, but we are promised that God will be with us when we are in danger. And there is no better place to be than in the hand of God.” Allow me to quote someone quoting someone -
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his Cost of Discipleship, reconciles these seemingly contradictory notions–the security of relationship with God and the insecurity of life in a fallen world–by appealing to Christian paradox:
The disciple is dragged out of his relative security into a life of absolute insecurity (that is, in truth, into the absolute security and safety of the fellowship of Jesus).
So are we safe or not? Yes. But no. No. But yes. Jesus says, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart for I have overcome the world!” We are in no danger but we should never think that means we’ll be safe! Like Daniel and Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego, we need to have faith in the sovereign God who is control. It will not always be easy and the road we will be asked to walk may not always be safe. God himself is not safe! In The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis includes this exchange between Lucy and Mr. and Mrs. Beaver about Aslan the Lion:
Lucy: Is he safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.
Mrs. Beaver: That you will, dearie, and make no mistake, if there's anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they're either braver than most or else just silly.
Lucy: Then he isn't safe.
Mr. Beaver: Safe? Don't you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.