As is my fashion , when I was listening to the sermon message yesterday I pondered on one of the underlying takeaways that our pastor was seeking to convey to the audience and was struck by how he discussed one passage in particular, Daniel 3:16-19, which says: “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”” The point our pastor was making was that if and when it comes to the point where those who take the Bible seriously face persecution for this because such views run counter to the depraved and decadent culture around us, those who believe ought not to be apologetic about their belief and practices but ought to forthrightly and openly admit them and to accept whatever repercussions follow from it.
As many readers are no doubt well aware of, I frequently write on the issue of apology and on how people do it well or poorly or not at all . It should be noted that apology and its Latin equivalent apologia have a more complicated history than is often acknowledged. An apology is an explanation or a retraction of one’s previous statements or conducts, generally done with the aim of saving a relationship or making amends to someone who has been wronged or offended by what one has said or done. Such letters are often deeply unpleasant to write, and most people tend to avoid making apologies until and unless it is absolutely necessary to do so on account of the fact that it tends to involve losing a fair amount of face. The Latin term has a somewhat different meaning, focusing on making a defense of one’s conduct and an explanation of it so that others may correct their misunderstandings. It is done, again, when someone wishes to preserve their position in the public sphere, where it is lamentably often necessary to explain and defend one’s conduct in the face of slander and libel.
At first, these two previous statements may be seen as contradictory, to live and practice our faith without apology but to be quick to offer an apology where we have committed wrong or quick to defend ourselves in the case of misunderstandings and deliberate misinformation, the resolution to the tension between those views comes with a set of judgments that is often felt intuitively but not expressed or understood openly. Daniel’s three friends were able to speak boldly and unapologetically to Nebuchadnezzar concerning their worship because they were not misunderstood, because they had nothing to be sorry about, and because they conceded the possibility of imminent demise. They refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s image, and accepted the inevitable repercussions of their refusal to kowtow to this demand. In our daily lives, when we interact with friends and brethren and coworkers and family members with whom we have serious disagreements and problems and misunderstandings, the situation is more complicated, in that we may have done some wrong and we desire and expect to have many more interactions with these people and wish for them to be as pleasant as possible and without torment to anyone involved. In those situations, it is entirely proper that we should feel the need at times to apologize and at times to defend and explain our conduct with the aim of restoring a relationship or reconciling a breach that has occurred. The difference in our conduct, whether we live life without apologies or not, depends on our expectation or a lack thereof with regards to future relations between ourselves and those with whom we are at odds or estranged.
It is important, though, that even if the vast majority of our interactions are in this second category where apologies are both proper and honorable, that we concede the existence of situations of the first kind as well where we have no need to answer others in this matter. When I visited Thailand, one of the many things about the country’s political culture that I found to be highly problematic was the fact that there were so many pictures of the king of Thailand and that people, including my employer, felt it necessary to bow to these photos. Thailand’s political situation is nothing if not complicated, complicated by the existence of a monarchy that has not given up its pretensions of divine right and even divine standing, a military that has been suborned from its duty to serve and protect the Thai people to the point where it reflexively acts against any democratic movement of any kind that seeks to reform the obviously corrupt nation, and pretensions of being a constitutional monarchy with a fully operating democratic system of government, except during the hiatuses in democracy and the rewriting of constitutions that take place after one of the country’s inevitable coups . In such a country, the fact that the photos of an aged king are as common as photos of the rulers of various dictatorships like North Korea or the Iraq of Saddam Hussein is intensely problematic for those who refuse, like Mordecai the uncle of Esther, to bow to any man. The problems faced by Daniel’s friends are not ridiculous even in our present world, even if they are not at present at the same extent. To see this sort of thing as being more common and more serious in the future is not by any means a stretch of the imagination or overly paranoid thinking.
Perhaps that ought to remind us of the conundrum poised by the need to be unapologetic in being faithful to our beliefs while also willing to apologize where necessary for our personal conduct. All too often we are extremely apologetic about our faith and not very apologetic at all for our conduct, which is precisely the wrong solution. We don’t apologize to governments because they are not worthy of our apology, especially when they demand divine worship and disrespect the prior claims of God, who gives governments the only legitimacy many of them possess by commanding a respect for authority that is often not deserved by their conduct. It is all too easy, though, for governments, which, after all, are made of flawed people serving in offices often beyond their competence and character, to forget the source of their legitimacy. It is often easy for any of us to forget that any dignity we have as human beings is thanks to being created in the image and likeness of God with the gifts that God has so generously given to the human race. In light of that recognition, it would make sense that we would be quick to apologize to other people who bear that same divine image, but not to those who would demand that we neglect the worship and honor to the Almighty to bow down to images made by people who are themselves unworthy of our apologies, only our pity and sadness for the inevitable judgment that will come upon those who rebel against their Lord and King.
 See, for example:
 See, for example:
 See, for example: