The prophet Daniel (3:14-20, 91-92, 95) relates the story of three Jewish administrators in Babylon who are reported to King Nebuchadnezzar as defying his order to worship a golden statue that he had recently erected. Threatened with death by incineration, the three men remain steadfast in their devotion to God. Enraged, the king has them bound and tossed into a super-heated furnace. But, not only are they unharmed, the king sees an angel conversing with them in that oven. This prompts his final words found in the headline.
At least in the western world, we have little reason to fear physical death due to our religious beliefs. But it should give us pause to consider how we would react if confronted with a similar situation. Bow to a false god or face death? I hope that we all would at least say that we would like to think that we would not commit apostasy for the sake of our well-being. But, when faced with a life or death scenario like this, it is not so easy to assure ourselves that we would remain faithful to God. It would be very easy to find all sorts of reasons to give in: family considerations, good works we could continue to do, working underground to help others, putting on the show while retaining true sentiments in our heart, and on and on. Certainly the early Christians struggled with the same thoughts. Yet many went to their deaths, foregoing the easy way out. Why? A desire to adhere to the Truth and the hope of a glorious future life. both ultimately springing from the love of God and a sure confidence in His faithfulness. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways” (Is 55:8). His plan is never thwarted. More fruit comes from faithful obedience, even if it means the shortening of our own lives, than from excuses for denying Him. Let us continue to pray for our nation that, unlike in other parts of the world, it does not come down to this.
More broadly, let us not place more importance on anything other than our relationship with God. “I am the LORD your God..You shall not have other gods beside me” (Ex 20:2, 3) was the first commandment burned into the tablets on Mt. Sinai. Jesus goes on to say that the first commandment is “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 22:37; see also Mk 12:30 and Dt 6:5). There is a reason that these are the first commandment. If we get the order right, everything else falls into place. St. Augustine, in his Homily 7 on 1 John, in the section on chapter 4 of this letter from the beloved disciple, which includes the words “God is love” (v. 8), famously said, “Love, and do what you will.” Let us honor God and ourselves by striving to follow these commands perfectly and, in turn, providing a witness (Gk. martyr) to the world.