"Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the King... 'If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it... But even if he does not, we will not serve your gods....'"
-- Daniel 3:16:18
It's two weeks before the election of 2004, and passions are running so high in the neck-and-neck race for president that half the country will be mired in depression on Nov. 3 because their man did not win.
Though I'm still optimistic the candidate of my choice will win -- because I can't believe the country would prefer "the other guy" or God would allow such a choice to be made -- with recent poll numbers in a statistical tie, I've started counting myself in that potentially depressed multitude.
That's why I was comforted a few mornings ago by Albert Lee's devotional, "But if not...," or how Christians should respond when something we deeply desire doesn't go our way. Perhaps you remember this Old Testament story Lee used to illustrate his message.
About 600 B.C., after King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Iraq today) had conquered Jerusalem, he asked his soldiers to select healthy, intelligent young men from among the Hebrew captives (Daniel 1:4), and move them into the palace to be trained to work for him. We're given the names of four of the trainees: Daniel and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.
Although Daniel would rise quickly both as a servant of the king and prophet for his God, we know of only one incident involving the three friends. But that incident, found in the third chapter of Daniel, is remembered to this day as an example of God's faithfulness to those who are faithful to him.
Unlike leaders of democratic societies, the absolutely powerful often consider themselves more like gods to be worshipped than rulers to be obeyed. So it wasn't unusual when King Nebuchadnezzar had his servants erect a 90-foot, golden statue of himself, and decreed that everyone in the kingdom bow down and worship the statue as if it were the king himself.
But it was unusual when Daniel's friends refused to obey the king's command. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, knew the rules: Obey and live, or disobey the king and be thrown into a furnace to die. The three young Hebrews may have been forced to leave their homeland, but no one could force them to stop worshipping their God. Therefore, when they refused to bow to the statue they were brought before the king, who reminded them of their "fiery furnace" fate if they continued their disobedient ways.
"Then, what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?" asked the king.
"O Nebuchadnezzar," they replied, "if we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us. But even if he does not... we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up."
The enraged king immediately had the men bound and thrown into a fire so hot it killed the soldiers who carried out the command. Yet when Nebuchadnezzar came to inspect the carnage, not only were the Hebrews still alive, "not a hair of their heads had been singed, their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them."
Perhaps most miraculous of all, the king was so impressed with the outcome, that he made a new decree: If anyone said anything against the God of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, they would be put to death.
For me, it's not as difficult to believe the God of the universe could put a protective shield around these three young men, as it is to comprehend the faith they had in a God who might not have spared their lives.
And that's the lesson for me in this political season. I continue to believe the outcome of the election is crucial to the future of this country and all the troubled regions of the world.
But if my thinking is wrong, my God is not reduced in any way. Whatever happens on Nov. 2, or 3, or ever after, is still under his control.
Our task, like that of the young Hebrews, is to be faithful to what we are called to do, to vote with an informed conscience and then to live by the same principles that guided our choice -- which includes supporting the candidate who wins.
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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