Who’s Got the Power Now? A Perspective in Civil Disobedience

Who’s Got the Power Now? A Perspective in Civil Disobedience September 14, 2022

The Fiery Furnace
Fr Lawrence Lew, O.P./ flickr

The Courage to Stand Against

Daniel chapter 3 illustrates not only the courage of three young Hebrew men to disobey the edict of a power-hungry king to bow down and worship his image but also a reminder of the faithfulness of God to uphold his promise of deliverance for his people in exile.

Growing up in the south during the 1970s and 1980s, I’ve known some whose attitudes toward people of color project a kind of moral superiority coming out of the Jim Crow era. The stories of fear of being pulled over by police officers during routine traffic stops while innocent are hard to imagine but are real. However, I’ve never personally witnessed the brutality seen on TV during the 1960s civil rights era. Laws prohibiting blacks and whites from eating at the same restaurant, using the same public restrooms, and drinking from the same water fountain were demoralizing and dehumanizing.

Dr. Martin Luther King, an advocate for non-violent civil disobedience of the Jim Crow laws, directed his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail at the clergy who rebuked his decision to go against the grain of culture. In his letter, he quoted St Augustine, who said, “an unjust law is no law at all.” His courage to willingly suffer the consequences of his actions inspired a generation to change laws recognizing the equality of all human beings, regardless of color and giving them the same rights. Although much work is still to be done, Dr. King’s voice still rings true today.

Idolatry Reversed

The story of the Shadrach, Meshak, and Abednego’s unwillingness to compromise their fidelity to God is a story that in a sense reverses the unfaithfulness of the Jews to bow down and worship the gods of the land. The statue that king Nebuchadnezzar erects is unlike anything in the Ancient Near East. Kings often set up idols in the temple of their gods to manifest their power on earth. The gods were typically made of wood, stone, or metal and would not only represent their god but be the conduit by which the god would bestow their favor by protection from their enemies, abundant crops, and offspring. Nebuchadnezzar’s image is not a representation of a god but a test of the absolute loyalty of his subjects. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were already forcibly enculturated by their new names, and now they must bow before the image of the king who changed their very identity.

In Isaiah 44:9-20, God speaks of the foolishness of those who make graven images that are nothing because they form a god that is less than the maker. God, in Psalm 115, mocks those who create idols that cannot speak, hear or see and that those who make them end up like them. He implores Israel to trust the Lord, their deliverer and protector. Unlike Israel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to bow down to a worthless statue despite knowing the government could kill them. They knew their deliverer and owed their allegiance to the only one true God. Instead of capitulating to the ego of a power-hungry king, they trusted God with the outcome. The author goes to great lengths to express the incredible power of God to save them from certain death by describing how even their clothes did not even smell of fire. Dead idols do not save, but the living God delivers from a fate worse than death.

Power to Resist Bowing to Injustice

Every day, we face countless decisions about whether we will speak up for God or capitulate to the culture around us. Injustice surrounds us; sometimes, we risk more than humiliation when we rock the boat. Remember, God is worthy of all honor, and the name of Jesus is above every name. We may not escape persecution, but for his glory, we do not fear the king. Jesus’ power goes beyond mere earthy blessings but instead grants salvation to eternal life in the kingdom of God.

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