In 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.
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.