I spent my childhood believing that the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego was a Book of Mormon story, but I recently found out (actually, it was embarrassingly recently) that it is a story that is contained in the Old Testament. You’d think that between my surviving both the Old Testament and Book of Mormon years of seminary and taking Book of Mormon parts 1 and 2 and Teachings of the Old Testament at BYU, I would’ve caught on sooner.
In the story Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refuse to worship the false gods of Babylon and so are to be cast into a fiery furnace heated to seven times its capacity. In the face of the an almost certain death, they say to the king; “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thy hand, O king” (Daniel 3:17).
I appreciated the immense courage in the story and miraculous nature of the outcome. They were, as they’d declared they would be, saved from the growing flames. The miracle happened so there was no reason for me to notice the three words that followed their original declaration of presumed deliverance. This was the clause that recognized that what would happen was still in the Lord’s hands–“but if not…”
There have been a blessed few times in my life that I’ve wanted something specific and concrete. It was actually hard for me to begin to learn the way that BYU teaches Acting because of the emphasis on a definite objective that you can only get through the other person in the scene with you. I keep to myself in a way that requires nothing specific from others and nothing explicit from God. Therefore, there is no moment of disappointment when I don’t get exactly what I wanted, because there hardly ever is exactness in the things that I ask for.
Praying that someone will be delivered from death is a pretty specific thing to require from God, and it is painfully clear when He had something else in mind. I never read further into Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego’s willingness to submit to plan B, because I already know from the scriptures that plan A works out for them. And such is the way I think about life. I suppose I work on the assumption that my devotion is enough that the few times I decide to ask for something specific, the second part of my Daniel chapter 3 has as good as already been recorded as a testament to faith to my desired outcome.
But what of the times when it is not? What of the times when you have fasted and prayed and sacrificed and worked and done all that it is humanly possible to do from your side and that effort still seems to be for naught? You’ve heard every story in sacrament meeting and conference and relief society about how even when the odds were completely stacked against someone, and even the person who brought them to the furnace was burnt up, they still came out unscathed. You know that with God all things are possible, so you know that He had the ability to bring you what you wanted and did not.
When the “but if not” becomes your lot and you unwittingly stumble in the most painful and disastrous and hopeless part of your life’s path, the only thing I can say is that “giving up is a denial of the Lord’s loving capacity to see us through all of these things” (Neal A. Maxwell). Christ took upon Himself our sins and will willingly take upon him our sorrows to lighten that emotional burden as well; “[Cast] all your care upon him; for he careth for you” (1 Peter 5:7). Remember that you are not the only one who has begged of the Lord to remove a bitter cup and had that entreaty denied for a better purpose.