“They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.” (Daniel 3.28b)
A while back I preached a message on Daniel 3 – the story of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego being thrown into the fiery furnace. This is the second of four posts where I’m offering some political reflections on this story. In the first post I talked about how politics is always a question of idolatry– that is, competing claims for allegiance. Below are musings two and three (of nine).
2. Obedience to God sometimes requires disobedience to the political powers that be.
As we saw in the first post, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego had two options: obey the king or obey God. Obedience to God mandated disobedience to the government. So we must see that we too may have to engage in political or “civil” disobedience in order to be faithful to God. If we don’t constantly consider this possibility (or probability?), we are setting ourselves up to sin. Since we know this, and since we know from Scripture that government is perhaps the primary candidate for idolatry, maybe we should approach all worldly politics with a strong dose of suspicion. (This would apply as much to markets as government bureaucracies, by the way.) Part of our essential political approach should be “critical” in the sense that we aim to expose idolatry wherever we see it. This is why patriotism can be dangerous in any country – it builds into us a posture of basic gut-level trust and admiration (if not adoration). We can and probably should love our homelands, but we must never do so uncritically. In our world, attention to the idols of both Right and Left, and perhaps especially the idols underlying and legitimating them both, seems to me necessary as part of the church’s essential mission of worshiping the True God and having no other gods before or alongside our Lord. But once again, the point I’m making here is that we might have to be politically rebellious if we want to remain faithful to God.
3. This theo-political competition is played out in the arena of symbolic ritual.
In our story from Daniel 3, faithful worship, and therefore civil disobedience, revolved around non-participation in a ceremonial display of national loyalty (to Babylon). Curiously, we are not told what Nebuchadnezzar’s image actually was – we don’t know if it was a Babylonian deity, Nebuchadnezzar himself, or what. We just know that (a) it was build by the emperor (or by his slaves rather), and (b) it represented acknowledgement of and commitment to Babylon (or her gods or the king, all of which is of course the same thing). The ceremony may seem like just a harmless display of respect, except for what we saw above: lurking behind such ceremonies are competing claims to loyalty/worship. As such we should always be wise and careful about participating in any ceremonies or rituals designed to foster admiration of any government or nation or whatever, which the Bible teaches us to suspect as a potentially very tempting idol.