Laughing at Tyrants: A Golden statue and the Babylonian Philharmonic

When I saw the dancers perform that dance on Friday at our school assembly I realised that I had never thought of the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as such a delightfully comic tale. The dancers, it seems to me have brought out a curious sense of joy and freedom.

I found this thought rather strange to begin with. I mean in view of the fact that this is a tale of three very brave men in the face of a brutal dictatorship there doesn`t seem too much to laugh about. But far from being a dour, gritting of the teeth kind of experience we are permitted to believe that at the heart of what was going on was a simple, deep sense of confidence in God.

And this lightness of touch let me imagine Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego actually laughing at Nebuchadnezzar. The word that came to mind was `Ridiculous`; that his scheme, His Golden Statue was simply worthy of ridicule. That`s why we smile at that refrain don`t we? The requirement that everyone who hears the sound of all those instruments- what sounds like the Babylonian Philharmonic -has to get down on their knees.

But again, this picture of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego actually laughing also makes great sense, because those in power always take themselves too seriously. That`s why they can`t admit to an error- or ever really apologise.

And the powerful know how subversive humour can be. It punctures illusions and pomposity. It gives a perspective the Nebuchadnezzars of this world would rather we didn`t have. And worship is the same. Worshipping the Golden statue was about closing down the people`s imagination. Nebuchadnezzar wanted the people to believe that this, Nebuchadnezzar `s world, was all that there was- and all that there ever could be.

But worship of the God of Israel is an act of resistance. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had a different story to tell. Of the God of Israel who as the Psalms tell us `Laughs at the pretensions of the powerful and the rich`. (Psalm 2.4) It also is subversive because in worship we celebrate a different world order which challenges the many golden statues calling out for our devotion.

Perhaps it seems odd for us to be talking in our day about bowing down to idols but these things never change. Each day we hear news of what are in effect the brutal and yes, ridiculous lengths people will go to in order to stay in power. To do this they have get them to bow down to their latest scheme, ideology or initiative. Conforming to the culture they have created is the name of the game. But worship of the God of Israel undermines this.

In worship we learn to see how ridiculous are the pretensions of the world and the many golden statues it erects. And we learn to recognise the characteristics of the latest golden statue by two things in particular.

Firstly, notice at the picture of the human person that you are given. And secondly look at what climate or atmosphere is created. Invariably, the human person is somehow diminished- and the climate that emerges is one of fear or insecurity.

So, we might think of the news report that says “The economy is in a mess because consumer spending is down”. On one level this may be factually correct but look at how loaded the remark is. Behind it is the assumption the human person is a `consumer`. That`s how we`re defined. And secondly there`s an implicit guilt. Basically it`s our fault. We haven`t bought into the ideology that `I shop therefore I am`.

Or think for instance of the Chancellor`s Budget. Every time this comes around the overriding concern in the media is their assumption that all we really want to know is how will this affect our pocket. In one sense the passing on of factual information, but also a gentle leading down the road of self rather than communal concern.

These are two small examples but this I think is how the Golden Statues work. They diminish the human person- in this case to a consumer. And create an climate in which- to exaggerate- it`s everyone for themselves.

But let`s not forget there are also the Golden Statues of Measurement, Targets and Performance Management. Just think of what the Golden Statue of `Testing` has done to our understanding of what Education is actually for- and the way it has raised the anxiety levels of parents and teachers alike. Yes, and there`s the great God `Market Forces`. Those who worship at this particular statue don`t cry “Alleluia!”- but “There`s no alternative!”

Then we could think about so many people`s favourite Golden Statue- the one called `Political correctness`; the cause of so much frustration and angst. Good ideas with often unhelpful outcomes. But so often defining us as atomised individuals with very thin skins and very easily offended.

And it`s a kind of tyranny isn`t it? And if you don’t toe the line- just consider the abuse you get. And this is what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego endured. They were snitched on. Someone pointed the finger because they didn`t fit in.

But I say again, in the face of this tyranny we`re given a picture of their quiet confidence in God; the God who, more importantly has a bigger vision of them. And behind it all there`s a certain humour- a sense of how ridiculous it all is.

We can, of course agree to differ about the examples I have given. But my point is to invite us to become more aware and to ask questions of our prevailing culture. It seems to me that the sound of the Babylonian Philharmonic can be heard quite often. But Worship and a sense of the ridiculous that will help you work out what tune they`re playing. And we don`t have to bow down.

In recent times a number of people have sounded off in the press that Christians in this country are being persecuted. My response is that there may be tensions but compared to Christians in many other parts of the world we`re very privileged. But if we look at the example of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego what stands out for me is that they`re not really concerned with Nebuchadnezzar or their fate.

Their focus is `The God whom we serve`. You see the tyrant wants you to think about them and their power. Holding fast to the God of Israel Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego soon put his pretensions in perspective. This is how prayer, this is how worship works. Just as one of the Psalms tells us “In God I trust, I am not afraid. What can flesh do to me?” It seems to me that you can spend too much time worrying about whether or not they`re out to get you. Because in the end that`s a distraction. The real agenda is living as if God IS God. Holding fast to him- the God whom we serve. And even i the fiery furnace he knows what he is about.

Preached following a dance by `Elevate` Dance company:


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