“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)
This is my final post offering reflections on the “political lessons” we learn from the very strange story in Daniel 3. See previous posts here, here and here. So far I have claimed from this story that (1) Politics is a question of idolatry – that is, competing claims for allegiance; (2) Obedience to God sometimes requires disobedience to the government; (3) This “theo-political” showdown is often fought on the battlefield of symbolic ritual; (4) In the ancient world God’s people faced persecution due to their position as a minority outsider in an imperial world; (5) Loyal servants of idolatrous political powers often die needlessly and tragically; (6) Sometimes governments do acknowledge God’s superior power to save; (7) The “political idolatry problem” does not rule out participation in political affairs. Below are the final two of my nine reflections (the last one is my favorite!).
8. God’s people may be called upon to face death for the sake of obedience.
So, ultimately, if we take a course of action that might very well result in dying, that factor alone shouldn’t rule out taking that course of action. (Remember, I’m just reflecting on the story in Daniel 3 here, and this is exactly what they did.) The whole history of martyrdom should have taught us this, but maybe we don’t know it well enough. At any rate, we consider disobedience to our King a much greater tragedy that death.
9. When God’s people face death without fear, God triumphs over evil.
Fear is the ultimate weapon of evil; Satan has no greater threat than death, nor do his earthly servants in the kingdoms of the world. By facing death without fear God’s people expose evil’s weakness, because through faith they reveal a greater power – a God more powerful even than death. Satan’s greatest weapon is death, but if the greatest weapon is fired and the opponent still isn’t defeated, then the battle is over. [This is the victory Jesus won over the powers (both spiritual and political) in his death and resurrection. This is why the NT points to the cross (and not just the resurrection) as the victory; the resurrection merely reveals and finalizes the victory. God, who is more powerful than death itself, defeats Satan, who has no more powerful weapon than death. What is more, this happens publicly, thereby exposing the idolatrous and ultimately false pretensions of worldly powers who portray themselves as all-powerful (or at least very powerful). Thus, as in Daniel 3, good triumphs over evil.]
As a closing thought, I’ve noticed that those who seem open to Christus Victor as a central explanation of the atonement are those who have acknowledged the political dimension of Jesus in general. If you reject Jesus as a political figure (albeit a very strange one), maybe you aren’t likely to see the truth in this way of looking at Jesus’ death and resurrection. To see this we must recognize that part of what was going on in Jesus (and part of the essential meaning of “the gospel”) has to do with God confronting the idolatrous political claims and practices of unjust governments as the earthly manifestation of Satan’s rule. (At the very least, this is what Revelation would have us believe, no?) Maybe to gain victory over Satan and to expose the false power of the kingdoms of the world are in a sense one and the same. And in this sense the mechanics of salvation (the “being saved” part of it) within a Christus Victor scheme make sense: Jesus’ death shows up both Rome and Satan by overcoming their strongest and not-so-secret weapon, Death. And by exposing Rome (or whomever) as ultimately weak and deceitful, Jesus liberates us from living according to her rules (which, once again, are actually Satan’s rules, since this world is still in some sense his domain: 1 Jn 5.19; 2 Cor 4.4; Eph 2.2). Salvation is freedom from the powers of sin and death, starting now and lasting into eternity. And salvation cannot happen apart from the liberation of our imaginations from “bondage to the fear of death” (Heb 2.15). Maybe this at least part of what Paul meant in Romans 12:
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is true worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”