We’re only free when life isn’t our absolute value

October 6, 2015

against_the_flowIn his commentary on the Book of Daniel, Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism, John Lennox describes Nebuchadnezzar’s anger, in Daniel 3, over Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s unwillingness to bow down and worship the king’s statue:

Nebuchadnezzar had never in his life before encountered such studied defiance. As it began to dawn upon him that there was a very real sense in which he was powerless against these men, his anger knew no bounds. Of course he could kill them, but that was not the point. What he could not do was to force them to bow. Up to now he had thought that human beings would do anything to save their lives. His whole scheme of getting his nobles to bow depended on the assumption that, for each person, life was of absolute value. To his utter amazement he discovered that this was not always the case. Even in his own very administration there were men, men of proven ability and high office, who regarded their lives as of relative value compared with the absolute value of God. Nebuchadnezzar’s reaction was a a fury of impotent frustration.[1]

The most powerful man in the world was powerless over these three men (even before their miraculous rescue), not because he couldn’t kill them, but because he couldn’t use that prospect alone to bend them to his will. I like that! Their lives were only of relative value compared to the absolute value of God.

Following Jesus is about learning to relativize our lives. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it” (Matthew 16:25).

But here’s what bothers me: While we’ll likely never face the kind of life-or-death choice that these three friends faced, we will face daily, hourly, moment-by-moment choices that either prove or disprove our belief in the absolute value we place on God. If we are failing to prove it in the small decisions of our lives, how confident are we that we, like the three friends, would prove it when it comes the ultimate decision—to live or die?

1. John C. Lennox, Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism (Oxford: Monarch, 2015), 144-5.

7 Responses to “We’re only free when life isn’t our absolute value”

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Actually, for me it would be much easier to “die physically” for the Lord than it is to “die daily” to the distractions and temptations. A one-time thing and I would be in Heaven!

    • brentwhite Says:

      Wow! So you’re saying one big decision—granted even a very big one—is easier than thousands of small ones? Good point. I’ll have to preach this!

    • Grant Essex Says:

      Tom, that “one time thing” is a lot more daunting when you are facing it for real, than it is in the hypothetical. I have been living with a diagnosis of congestive heart disease for a number of years. As long as the “terminal” part of the disease was sometime down the road, it was easy to say I was comfortable with it. Now that we are in the end stages, and I am facing an implant procedure, I have become much more focused on the event. I still have a full assurance of my eternal destination, but the transitional event is more frightening than I imagined before. Fortunately, the procedure, an LVAD implant, might give me a few more years. It’s amazing how precious that prospect is to my family and me.

      • Tom Harkins Says:

        Grant, thanks for your response and I hope I did not ignore the “trauma” that can be involved in “approaching death.” I had in mind more a situation such as ISIS or the like threatening me with immediate death if I refused to recant my faith. But I certainly recognize that impending death can be a thing sought to be avoided.

      • Grant Essex Says:

        Not at all. In the ISIS example, I would also say that none of us really know how we would respond. We can try and view the event in the hypothetical, but until we have the knife to our throat we won’t really know our reaction.

  2. bobbob Says:

    like tom says it very easily could be easier to make one decision than the myriad that face us daily. maybe that’s why it took 24 hrs to actually bring Jesus to the cross. He had to go through the same process. could He have thought when Judas betrayed Him “just do it now!”? woulda been easier than the hours of agony endured He knew were coming. and it didn’t hafta be divine foreknowledge either. plenty of faux christs had met similar fates so he knew where this was going if by example.

    • brentwhite Says:

      So let’s learn to master the small decisions, as Jesus surely did (for example, by spending a lot of time in prayer), then the big decisions, when we face them, will take of themselves! The daily denying of ourselves gives us the practice we need for the ultimate denying of ourselves. I like that!


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