GETTING IN THE PIT
The Bible is filled with pits.
You see, the Bible is the story of God but it is told through people, and we as people often find ourselves in pits.
There is Joseph, for example. In Genesis 37, God promises Joseph that he will one day rule over Egypt. Soon after he receives this promise, the treachery begins. Joseph’s brothers steal his most prized possession, throw him into a dried up well, and resolve to leave him to die in this desert pit.
Later on, in Daniel 3, we hear the story of King Nebuchadnezzar and his response to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s refusal to worship a false idol. He creates an idol of gold and demands that all bow to it upon hearing the appointed instruments. These three men follow God courageously and refuse to bow and are thus bound with rope and thrown into a fiery pit, the flaming furnace cranked up to match the heat of the king’s rage. It is so hot, in fact, that it burns up the soldiers sent to throw them in just from being near it.
Just a few chapters later in Daniel 6, Daniel himself is met with a deathly pit. He is ordered not to bow to God but does so fearlessly with his windows thrown wide for all to see, unashamed of his adoration for The Creator. He is scooped up by the king’s men and though he was greatly loved by the king himself, no earthly man could save him. Into the Lion’s Den he is thrown, the mouth of the den sealed with a stone and a desperate prayer from the king.
You see, all of us find ourselves in one pit or another from time to time, and typically, it is quite dark so deep underground. It is frightening and lonely and, more so than anything, it often feels as though it is the end.
But in all these instances, the pit is only the beginning.
For Joseph, it gets worse. Fast. He is yanked from the dry well he was thrown into, but the pit seems to be getting deeper and deeper and hope seems to creep further and further from his grasp. But Joseph was made a promise by God and Joseph understands that God is a promise keeper. He clings to the knowledge that he was promised a position of power and throughout his story, he keeps his eyes on a God who made clear to him his identity. Often, when it feels as though God is allowing the pit to grow deeper, what He is really allowing is for our roots to grow deeper as he digs us through the darkness and up into the promises He made to us. You see, it is in the pit that Joseph is shaped into a man worthy of reigning over a kingdom. In the pit, Joseph has no one but God to cling to and God carries and shapes him. In the pit, Joseph’s identity and God’s promise are intertwined.
In the case of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, God climbs in with them. When King Nebuchadnezzar peers into the furnace to be certain they are goners, he sees four men walking around, unbound and unbothered. It was quite important for these three men to wind up in this situation because amidst the flames, God reveals His power and unparalleled protection to a king who soon champions His name to his entire Kingdom. These three men weren’t alone in this pit. God joins them in their darkest, most desperate moment and walks along with them, keeping them safe and confirming the call on their lives to stand in the face of earthly kings and declare God’s sovereignty over every situation.
For Daniel, God sends an angel. God himself gets into the pit three chapters earlier in order to teach His angels what it means to be with someone in their pit season and shortly after, releases them to do His work on the earth and in Daniel’s life. An angel lands in the Lion’s Den and holds shut the mouths of the lions to protect his Daniel. Again, the angels do not interfere with what God is doing in the pit, they simply offer a protective shroud of community in Daniel’s darkest moments. Why do we stand atop the pit and throw in a rope when we see our friends inside rather than climb in with them and sit alongside them while God works through the darkness? You see, it is so much easier to stand back from the pit and shout out possible escape routes rather than dirtying our hands, climbing in, and holding shut the mouths of the roaring lions so our Daniel’s can meet with God. But God calls us—as well as shows us—to get in the pit.
In Luke 5:17-20, while Jesus is preaching in a home during his ministry years, a group of men join in community with their paralyzed friend and lower him down to meet with Jesus and receive healing. The man drops into the pit broken, meets Jesus in it, and is released healed, a new creation. Covenant friends recognize that the pit is a place where community climbs in and bears witness to the redemptive power of a God who draws us near in dark times, and uses those seasons as a proclamation of who He is and what He does.
Get in the pit.
When your friends are in the pit, your family or your community or your nation, you are called to get in also. Watching those we love sit in a pit is hard. Peering into their darkness is heartbreaking because we were never meant to gaze into but to get into. Not to peer into but to partner with. Not to shout from the mouth of the cave instructions on how to climb out but to whisper from within it the reminder of the identity of a God whose light cannot be overcome (Luke 1:5).
Because had he not gotten in, no matter how good the advice of the angel shouting from outside the den had been, Daniel would’ve been eaten. Daniel needed the angel to squeeze shut the lion’s mouths waiting to devour him.
And no matter how confident Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had been in the protective power of the God of Israel, had God not climbed into the flames with them, their story would’ve ended much differently.
And though we don’t see the community in Joseph’s pit, I believe it is not highlighted because God transformed Joseph’s pit into Joseph’s Secret Place. I believe God met him there and reaffirmed His promises and gave Joseph a place to return to and meet God in the pit’s quiet intimacy.
You see, the Bible is filled with pits, but the pits are filled with God. Hebrews 12:29 tells us that our God is “an all-consuming fire”. Isaiah 31:4 says that “as a lion growls, a great lion over his prey […] so the Lord Almighty will come down.” It is time that we as a church resist the temptation to save people from the pits and instead help them look for God in them. But the only way to help someone see in a pit is to get into it with them, and bring not your advice but your light.