I’ve always loved the story of Daniel and the lions’ den, in which Daniel gets set up by a bunch of nefarious government officials, sticks to his religious principles, is found guilty of breaking Babylonian law, and thrown into the den of lions, only to have the angel of God shut the mouths of the beasts.
Perhaps the only other story I love as well is that of Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. They weren’t so much set up but ratted out because they also stuck to their religious principles, refusing to worship the statue of the Babylonian king. His Highness was so enraged he doubled the penalty—they were thrown into a furnace of fire, heated twice as hot as normal. But as the king looked on, he saw four men walking about, none tied up as the three offenders had been, and none burnt up. Eventually he had Daniel’s friends released, and their clothes weren’t even singed and there was no smell of smoke on them.
I love these stories of godly people who held to their beliefs without wavering. But then, I know the end of the story. I know they escaped.
Stephen’s story of martyrdom isn’t quite as much of a favorite. I know the way that one ended too. While I admire his fervor and his unwillingness to deny Jesus Christ or to stop preaching the truth, I don’t like the fact that it cost him his life or that his death ushered in a period of persecution the young Church had to endure.
So you could say I favor the victorious endings, the ones that have the king declare,
“Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego, who has sent His angel and delivered His servants who put their trust in Him, violating the king’s command, and yielded up their bodies so as not to serve or worship any god except their own God. Therefore I make a decree that any people, nation or tongue that speaks anything offensive against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego shall be torn limb from limb and their houses reduced to a rubbish heap, inasmuch as there is no other god who is able to deliver in this way.” (Dan. 3:28b-29)
Well, OK, maybe the tearing from limb to limb and houses reduced to rubbish is a bit over the top. I’d rather see some sort of rehabilitation or sensitivity training, perhaps, but I suppose that’s just me being a part of the culture in which I find myself.
But there’s the issue. I’m struggling to figure out how I fit into this culture that allows for and approves the killing of infants in their mother’s womb, that redefines the Biblical understanding of marriage, that uses the protection clause of the First Amendment against religion instead of for it, that supports the suppression of free speech on college campuses.
As to the latter, perhaps this video will show you where I’m coming from:
On one hand, I’d like to be Daniel. I admire Kim Davis, County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, who is in prison for contempt of court because she wouldn’t go back on the religious principles of her new-found faith. (For those who think she should just have quit, perhaps this Washington Post article, “When does your religion legally excuse you from doing part of your job?” will show that our Constitution provides protection from forcing people out of their jobs because of their religious views.)
At the same time, I’m afraid of being Stephen. I don’t know if I have the passion for Christ that he had or the love for his persecutors that enabled him to ask for their forgiveness as he was dying. (See Acts 7:58-60)
Of course, I’m sure others will think I’m jumping to dire conclusions from the case of one County Clerk, and making a mountain out of a series of Planned Parenthood videos. We’re not living in Nazi Germany, many will say. How dare anyone compare Kim Davis to Rosa Parks, others will say.
But I wonder about this. Who knew that Rosa Parks would become Rosa Parks that day in 1955 when she was arrested for disobeying the law that required her to go to the back of the bus. Of course, her situation offered a rallying point for those who were already being oppressed by an unjust law.
Jews in Hitler’s Germany were oppressed by a change in the culture—an out-of-the-closet prejudice against them that first made it harder for them to get jobs or do business. Who was the Jew that was first arrested for being a Jew or for complaining against his unfair treatment? There had to be a first.
Was there a County Clerk who refused to register Jews and consequently went to prison? It wouldn’t be surprising if there were.
But we don’t think of Germany in its transformation from the Wiemar Republic to Hitler’s Nazi rule. We see the extremes of the Third Reich and say, Horrific, never considering how they got there. What rights were first trampled upon? What compromises did good citizens first make? What injustice did people not speak against?
Of course, we have no record of Daniel speaking against the Babylonian law that sent him to the lions den. We have no record of his friends trying to persuade others not to bow to the kings idol. On the other hand, those governments were not democracies, either.
When we the people are the power behind the government, are we not responsible for what that government does? I’d love to know what Daniel would do in Kim Davis’s place. I’d love to know what Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego would do if they saw those Planned Parenthood videos.
I’m pretty sure none of them would be concerned for their image or for negative press. Would they simply go about their business until the day the authorities came to arrest them? I wonder.