In early 1940 the British and their allies sent a force of some 350,000 men into the low countries of Europe to stem the tide of German advance into France, Belgium and Holland. Caught in a brilliant pincer movement by the invading German forces the beleaguered British Expeditionary Force was pushed back to the beaches of the small Belgian town of Dunkirk. To everyone’s surprise the Germans halted their advance to regroup. As England and the world waited for what appeared to be the sure and certain annihilation of 350,000 men a three word message was transmitted from the besieged army at Dunkirk. It read simply, “But if not.” The British people understood the biblical import of the cryptic message. It was a reference to the Old Testament book of Daniel, where Daniel and his friends chose death rather than worship an image of the pagan king, “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). The British Expeditionary Army, surrounded, cutoff and on the brink of destruction was declaring to Britain and to the world that even in apparent defeat they were, in fact, victorious. The message, more eloquent than a sermon delivered in St. Paul’s Cathedral, galvanized the British people. In a matter of hours thousands of boats of every description headed across the dangerous waters of the English Channel and, at the risk of their own lives from enemy fire, began the evacuation of the heroic but beleaguered army in what historians now refer to as “the miracle of Dunkirk.”
They knew that they could trust God—even if things didn’t turn out the way they hoped.4 They knew that faith is more than mental assent, more than an acknowledgment that God lives. Faith is total trust in Him.
Faith is believing that although we do not understand all things, He does. Faith is knowing that although our power is limited, His is not. Faith in Jesus Christ consists of complete reliance on Him.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego knew they could always rely on Him because they knew His plan, and they knew that He does not change.5 They knew, as we know, that mortality is not an accident of nature. It is a brief segment of the great plan6 of our loving Father in Heaven to make it possible for us, His sons and daughters, to achieve the same blessings He enjoys, if we are willing.
They knew, as we know, that in our premortal life, we were instructed by Him as to the purpose of mortality: “We will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.”7
So there we have it—it’s a test. The world is a testing place for mortal men and women. When we understand that it’s all a test, administered by our Heavenly Father, who wants us to trust in Him and to allow Him to help us, we can then see everything more clearly.
His work and His glory, He told us, is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”8 He has already achieved godhood. Now His only objective is to help us—to enable us to return to Him and be like Him and live His kind of life eternally.
Knowing all this, it was not difficult for those three young Hebrews to make their decision. They would follow God; they would exercise faith in Him. He would deliver them, but if not—and we know the rest of the story.
The Lord has given us agency, the right and the responsibility to decide.9 He tests us by allowing us to be challenged. He assures us that He will not suffer us to be tempted beyond our ability to withstand.10 But we must understand that great challenges make great men. We don’t seek tribulation, but if we respond in faith, the Lord strengthens us. The but if nots can become remarkable blessings.
The Apostle Paul learned this significant lesson and declared, after decades of dedicated missionary work, “We glory in tribulations . . . knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed.”11
He was assured by the Savior, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”12
Paul responded: “Most gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. . . . I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.”13 When Paul met his challenges the Lord’s way, his faith increased.
“By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac.”14 Abraham, because of his great faith, was promised posterity greater in number than the stars in the heavens, and that that posterity would come through Isaac. But Abraham immediately complied with the Lord’s command. God would keep His promise, but if not in the manner Abraham expected, he still trusted Him completely.
Men accomplish marvelous things by trusting in the Lord and keeping His commandments—by exercising faith even when they don’t know how the Lord is shaping them.
“By faith Moses . . . refused to be called the son of Pharoah’s daughter;
“Choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season;
“Esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt. . . .
“By faith he forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king. . . .
“By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land. . . .
“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down.”15
Others “through faith subdued kingdoms, . . . obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
“Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight.”16
But in the midst of all those glorious outcomes hoped for and expected by the participants, there were always the but if nots:
“And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, . . . bonds and imprisonment:
“They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about . . . being destitute, afflicted, tormented; . . . 17
“God having provided some better things for them through their sufferings, for without sufferings they could not be made perfect.”18
Our scriptures and our history are replete with accounts of God’s great men and women who believed that He would deliver them, but if not, they demonstrated that they would trust and be true.
He has the power, but it’s our test.
What does the Lord expect of us with respect to our challenges? He expects us to do all we can do. He does the rest. Nephi said, “For we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.”19
We must have the same faith as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego.
Our God will deliver us from ridicule and persecution, but if not. . . . Our God will deliver us from sickness and disease, but if not . . . . He will deliver us from loneliness, depression, or fear, but if not. . . . Our God will deliver us from threats, accusations, and insecurity, but if not. . . . He will deliver us from death or impairment of loved ones, but if not, . . . we will trust in the Lord.
Our God will see that we receive justice and fairness, but if not. . . . He will make sure that we are loved and recognized, but if not. . . . We will receive a perfect companion and righteous and obedient children, but if not, . . . we will have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that if we do all we can do, we will, in His time and in His way, be delivered and receive all that He has.20 I so testify in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
1. See Guide to the Scriptures, “Faith,” 80; Hebrews 11:1; Alma 32:21; Ether 12:6.
2. Daniel 3:15.
3. Daniel 3:17–18; emphasis added.
4. See Mosiah 7:33.
5. See Alma 7:20; 3 Nephi 24:6; Mormon 9:19; Moroni 8:18.
6. See 2 Nephi 11:5; Alma 12:25; D&C 84:35–38.
7. See Abraham 3:24–25.
8. Moses 1:39.
9. See 2 Nephi 2:27; Helaman 14:30; D&C 101:78.
10. See 1 Corinthians 10:13; Alma 13:28.
11. Romans 5:3–5.
12. 2 Corinthians 12:9.
13. 2 Corinthians 12:9–10.
14. Hebrews 11:17; emphasis added.
15. Hebrews 11:24–27, 29–30; emphasis added.
16. Hebrews 11:33–34; emphasis added.
17. Hebrews 11:36–37.
18. Joseph Smith Translation, Hebrews 11:40.
19. 2 Nephi 25:23.
20. See D&C 84:35–38.