Faith Under Fire
In my last three blogs, I have talked about living a life of holiness in Christ (June 21), choosing the Lord over the false gods around us even today (July 5), and serving the Almighty by doing what He wants us to do (July 19). Today, our focus is on whether we can achieve any of these things if we compromise with the world and follow a path other than the one set before us by our Heavenly Father.
The nature of compromise
Several years ago, I was interviewed for a possible appointment to our state’s court of civil appeals. This type of court reviews the decisions of trial judges and juries to determine whether any error occurred entitling one or more of the parties to a new trial, further proceedings in the trial court, or even the entry of a different judgment than the one entered in the original litigation. One of the members of the committee interviewing me asked what I would do as an appellate judge if I believed an error had occurred at trial requiring some form of relief on appeal but the other two judges on the panel believed no error had occurred. (The judges on our court of civil appeals are located in two different cities in our state, and each panel consists of three such appellate judges.) I asked that the question be clarified, because the answer seemed too obvious: if I believed such an error had occurred, then I would vote that way and, if necessary, write a legal opinion discussing the law and facts supporting my conclusion.
The committee member asked the question again without any material changes, so I answered it exactly as described above.
But, he said, would it not be better for the three-judge panel to rule unanimously rather than by a split decision?
Certainly, I responded, if that were how the three judges viewed the matter. However, if one of them had a different perspective and therefore reached a different conclusion, did not that judge owe it to the parties, and our judicial system as a whole, to take a stand consistent with his or her analysis of the law and facts?
Well, he said, sometimes reaching a consensus is the most important outcome.
Really? For whom? And even if that meant the judge could do so only by violating his or her conscience and the oath he or she had taken as an appellate judge?
Call it “consensus.” Call it “compromise.” Call it “give and take” or any of the many other ways to make it politically correct or personally palatable. However, they all mean the same thing: doing something other than what you believe in order to expedite an outcome or obtain a result.
Please do not misunderstand me. In human matters, whether social, economic, political, or even judicial, we all recognize that what is often at stake is less about right or wrong than about simply reaching a decision – sometimes any decision – on the subject at hand. Disagreements could go on indefinitely, and a decision might never be reached at all (and certainly not in a timely manner).
Yes, compromise works when imperfect people have to apply imperfect rules in an imperfect world, but what about matters of faith or morals? What about when the Word of God is clear? Is compromise acceptable then?
“Compromise is but the sacrifice of one right or good in the hope of retaining another,” wrote American theologian Tryon Edwards, “too often ending in the loss of both.”
And nowhere is this more apparent than when souls are at stake.
What did Jesus say?
Popularity was never the goal of Jesus of Nazareth. During His ministry on earth, the Son of God made it clear that life is about hard choices and that hard choices are what distinguish the saved from the lost:
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. … Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 7:13-14, 21, NIV
Refusing to bend, and refusing to bow
In recent times, we have watched as some have honored God by drawing a symbolic line in the sand and refusing to cross it. A court clerk went to jail rather than issue a license for the marriage of a same-gender couple. Small business owners lost their livelihood rather than become part of what they believed to be immoral behavior. A pharmacist lost his job because he refused to fill a prescription for an intended abortifacient.
And over twenty-five hundred years ago, three young men endured a fiery furnace rather than worship a false god.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (their Hebrew names were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, see Daniel 2:17) were young Jewish men who were taken to Babylon during the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar II in the 6th Century B.C. Assimilated into the Babylonian culture and even appointed as administrators over the province of Babylon (Daniel 2:49), they and all the other Jews living in Babylon were ordered to fall down and worship a large golden image whenever certain music was played (Daniel 3:1-15). They refused, however, and despite being threatened with death by fire in a blazing furnace, they remained undaunted:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel 3:16-18, NIV
Throughout salvation history, heroes of the Judeo-Christian faith have chosen death over dishonor, and Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah did exactly that: they refused to bend their knees or bow their heads to an idolatrous image.
And their legacy lives on (Daniel 3:19-30).
The world today
In the world today, we must still make difficult choices as Christians. That which competes for our hearts in the 21st Century is not a statue made of gold, but it is every bit as false as what Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah faced in ancient Babylon. The most important question is not who, what, where, when, why, or how but rather whether – whether we will compromise our souls by taking the easier path offered by this fallen world.
Will you choose the wide gate or the small gate?
The broad road or the narrow road?
Destruction or eternal life?
The choice is yours, but the examples from salvation history, both in antiquity and today, show the path marked for you – for all of us – by God Himself.
Refuse to bend.
Refuse to bow.
Stand firm in your faith (1 Corinthians 16:13).
-- Dr. John Morris