March 8, 2010

Nebuchadnezzar said to them, “Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the golden image that I have set up?…If you will not worship, you will immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire; and what god is there who can deliver you out of my hands? Daniel 3:14, 15

There are many adjectives used to describe Death Valley—largest (of the national parks in the mainland U.S.), hottest (temps run above 120 degrees in the summer), driest (with an average rainfall of only 2.5 inches annually), and lowest (Badwater Basin, at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest elevation in North America). But don’t assume that the park is all desert and nothing else: you’ll also find bighorn sheep, cottonwood groves, canyons, wild horses and spring-fed waterfalls among the four mountain ranges that ring the valley.

One question most people have about Death Valley is, how did it get its name? As the story goes, a group of pioneers got lost in the valley during the winter of 1849-50 (on their way to California as part of the Gold Rush), and although only one among them lost his life, the others were afraid they would meet death there as well. After they finally climbed over the Panamint Mountains to safety, one of the men looked back and said, “Goodbye, Death Valley,” and the name stuck.

The “jewel” of the park, though, according to its website, is the Furnace Creek Inn, a Spanish-style hacienda with rates starting at $320 (fortunately, there are other, much cheaper accommodations, too!) The place sounds lovely—nestled against the Funeral (!) Mountains, with a spring-fed swimming pool, tennis courts, palm trees, massages, spa tubs, terry cloth robes, and even televisions with cable in every room (a rarity in national park lodgings). That’s enough to take your mind off the extreme conditions!

As I was reading about the inn, I reflected on how its name contrasted with the luxurious description, and I flipped my Bible open to the book of Daniel, to the tale of another furnace and the dramatic account of these three captive Israelites. Talk about extremes! They were presented with the choice of either bowing down to a graven image or being burned alive!

Their answer is almost beyond belief: “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17, 18). They made no conditions with God over the outcome; deliverance or martyrdom were equally possible, and they were okay with that.

What amazing faith and courage!

“Ah, but they were spared,” you might be thinking, “and so everything turned out okay. But what about the people who are faithful who aren’t rescued? And what about me and my circumstances? Where’s my deliverance?”

Believe me, I think the same things. Many aren’t spared grief and hardship—I see it in the Bible (Hebrews 11:35-38 and other verses), in history, in the newspaper and on television, in my church and neighborhood, and sometimes when I look in the mirror.

I’ll tell you right now I don’t have the answer to why some people endure more than others, and I never will. But I know who does. I’ll never fully figure out the purpose of all the world’s suffering, let alone mine. But I know who has it all under control. Simon Peter put it this way: “Lord, to whom shall we go?” he says to Jesus, when asked if he wants to stop being His disciple. “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). The key isn’t my mortal, faulty reasoning; it’s in a hard-fought and too-often faltering trust in the Son of God, who cares enough about you and me that He promises never to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

You and I may not ever get to Death Valley, but we have and will continue to walk through other kinds of valleys, including the “valley of the shadow of death” (Psalm 23:4). Like you, I’d prefer to face these trials—especially the last one—as painlessly as possible.

But even if He does not grant our desire, I pray He’d give each of us the sure-fire faith of those three men.


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