The Struggle of Our Time


Last night in our Bible Study we took a look at Daniel 3. One of the top ten most well-known Bible stories. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (or rather: Hananiah, Mishael, and Azzariah) had been taken from their homes in Judah—and forced to assimilate into a polytheistic, pagan Babylon. They had been taught the language and the literature of the Babylonians in order that they may be future administrators and magistrates in the greatest nation on earth. A fantastic leadership model from Nebuchadnezzar by the way: integrating the best and brightest of the conquered into your ruling class. (Next time you invade a foreign power, take note.)

In Daniel 3 Nebuchadnezzar constructed a brilliant golden image for the people to bow down before in worship. Those who refused to do so when the music played were given the threat of a fiery death in the furnace. You remember the story.

For these young Jewish men, living in a foreign land, the situation could not be any more black and white. The line in the sand was crystal clear: worship the image or die. Therefore they refused to bow down in accordance to God’s command: “You will have no other God’s before me,” and for them it was really simple as that. Some nefarious fellows ratted them out to the king, and Nebuchadnezzar grew furious. What follows is one scene that I would love to have witnessed: three boys in captivity standing up to the most powerful man in the world—under pain of death. Could you imagine the intimidation?

Nebuchadnezzar then gave them one more chance, but the three kids delivered a response that was so definitive and poised, the King could not help but fly into a greater rage: “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

The story then records an amazing deliverance from the flames, a revelation of the pre-incarnate Christ, and a supernatural testimony to God’s power. The boys are delivered from the fire and Nebuchadnezzar gives supposed glory to God. What a story!

These three young men faced coercion and brute force tactics: bow or burn. No alternatives, no confusion. Crystal clarity. And while we may be thankful that we do not have to face such overwhelming pressures, I wonder if Daniel’s friends would have preferred their situation to our modern one. Here is what I mean:

Today we face no such ultimatums. Even in a quickly changing world I can’t quite see America getting to a place where it will burn confessional Christians in a furnace. I could be wrong, but I suspect we will follow the trajectory of Australia or the UK. Instead of the line in the sand objectivity these young men faced in Babylon, what we face is a very gradual, almost unnoticeable change in gradation from white to gray. Instead of ripping us from our families and forcing us to assimilate, instead of dragging us before Soviet dictators and demanding us to comply at gun point--our world tells us: you can live and worship as you please. Go to church on Sunday for all I care. Keep your Bibles and your freedom of religion. But I am going to so bombard you with worldly philosophy disguised as entertainment, I am going to so assault your heart through what you view on the internet, I am going to so alter your belief system from the inside--that sooner or later you will find yourself bowing down. Different tactic, same desired outcome.

Because the truth is: the ruler of this age is a master of subtlety, and while we may not have to stand before the king in defiance, his modern methods are no less dangerous than it was then.  

I wonder if you have seen this sort of subtlety in action. I have witnessed countless Christians both old and young compromise on core Christian issues, almost unknowingly. What has happened is we have stopped thinking Biblically, and as such we have let our guard down in the process. We have stopped taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, and we have ceased asking ourselves: “does this new position I find myself adopting match what the Bible says?” Is this celebration of my homosexual friend coming out, consistent with what God has revealed? Does my universal satisfaction in diversity of religion really jive with the exclusive claims of our Savior? Does the preeminence of contemporary social justice issues in my activity blend with the greatest focus in the New Testament?

But never mind that, we short circuit this thinking process--because we have been lulled into a sleep. Our awareness has been worn down over time. We do not think anymore, that's just it! We have long lost the ability to analyze propositional thoughts to ensure they are consistent with our worldview, opting rather to just “go with what feels right.” Inclusivity, tolerance, equality, “love”--are the buzzwords of the day. Coincidentally this modern brand of “Christianity” goes hand in hand with what the secular world proclaims! How convenient.

How to stand

In order to stand against the current, in order to not be children tossed to and fro by every wind and doctrine, we need to be rooted. We need to be formed first and foremost not on what we feel to be true, hope to be true, or what is deemed to true by society at large, but what God’s definitive Word declares to be true. As believing Christians, that has to be our lens by which we see everything, the standard by which everything else must conform. An understanding of that Biblical framework will then enable us to recognize the subtle threats and the false lies, and the various methods which the world utilizes to alter our belief system. We need to read this Word daily, and hide it in our hearts that we may not sin against God. 

I also think it is significant that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are together. They have each other’s backs. If one was thinking about possibly capitulating to the pressure, the other two were right there to say, “No, buddy, we have resolved to do this long before. You are not getting out of this one!” Even though landscape has since changed this remains a great application for us today. We cannot get isolated, we cannot stand alone. We need a community of steadfast believers who can speak the truth into our lives. No Christian is immune to doubts, no Christian is invincible; two are better than one, a chord of three strands is not easily broken.

Our world definitely lacks the clarity of the Babylon of old. What we need to see is that while we are not being coerced or openly persecuted, or threatened with flames--we are still living in Babylon just the same. And those same old forces (the world, the flesh, and the devil) are working double time to ensure we bow, if not by brute force--by different means. This is the struggle of our time. Whatever we face, may we be found standing at the end.
***
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2 

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