Far From Home
I have recently begun a journey through the book of Daniel with a small group on Wednesday nights. The book has fascinated people for ages because of the fiery furnace and the lions den. It is packed with interesting things. The second half of the book is filled with apocalyptic literature and has abundant questions about interpretation. It is important though to remember that Daniel is part of the larger story of the Bible and to see it in light of creation, fall, redemption, and recreation. Otherwise, if that perspective is left out, the book becomes simply a place to point people at Daniel’s example. Remember, “Dare To Be A Daniel”? Surely there are some qualities about Daniel we should desire like his courage and convictions. But Daniel, like many other Old Testament people, serves to point us to Jesus. Both Jesus and Daniel lived and served God in cultures that were hostile to their beliefs. Daniel lived through “many dangers, toils and snares” as the familiar hymn goes. Jesus however, was crucified. Both lives have many examples of how people who center their lives on God should interact and live within their worlds.
Daniel was an exile in a land that was very hostile to his beliefs and his God. Jesus was an exile from his heavenly home to earth. We can tend to think an exile in the Bible is someone who is under some sort of judgment. Yet, in both examples of Daniel and Jesus, they were where they were by God’s plan. Many in our culture today have wondered how to live when the beliefs of Christians seem to be regarded less and less. We are no longer seen as a belief system alongside other beliefs, but Christianity more often is regarded as hate speech and intolerant. In the words of theologian and philosopher Francis Schaeffer, “How then shall we live?”
I would like for us to think in two pathways about Daniel’s life. Perhaps this can help us to have some encouragement in our culture today. The first is to know that wherever God’s people are, God knows and God gives wisdom to live. Wisdom is more than a set of answers. Biblical wisdom is the ability to live skillfully and with understanding even when the cultural answers are not always clear. Many have taken courage from Daniel’s decision with his friends to not eat the food that they were given (Daniel 1:8). But, it is interesting that they did not just go on a hunger strike. They suggested an alternative diet and it was unusually blessed! So much so that the person overseeing the whole health plan gave everyone what Daniel and friends were eating. Where did Daniel get an answer like he gave the chief eunuch? How could you ever have an emergency plan that covers something like food offered to foreign gods? Daniel oriented his life toward God and God gave wisdom. This is a living illustration of what the New Testament writer James talks about in James 1. Are you asking God for wisdom or are you merely wanting an answer? Perhaps God is giving us wisdom when we ask but we need the eyes to see where God is working.
Another aspect of Daniel’s story of living in a hostile world is seen in the people with him. His three friends. Now I know that I cannot say that forever and always there will be people to stand with us. I don’t know that guarantee is promised anywhere in the Bible. What I can say is that, in most cases, there are more people near us with a similar heart for God that can form a community of encouragement. It seems the enemy is always trying to isolate us. To get us alone and away from others. As a reflection of the joy and unity of the Trinity, God created humans with the capacity for community. Daniel’s small community of friends was the lifeblood of their courage and most certainly filled with talk about God. So, let me ask, are you gathering regularly with God’s people? Are you working to develop good, godly friendships or are you waiting for people to befriend you? Are you trying to walk the Christian path alone when there may be others nearby who can walk with you?
In Jesus perfect life, his death, and his resurrection, the courage and conviction of Daniel’s community find their truest meaning. They weren’t living just to survive so that someday people would talk about Daniel in the lions den. They were living for Someone greater. Their lives mattered because when those three young men were thrown into the fiery furnace (Daniel 4:8), there was another there, the Son of God with them (Daniel 4:25). Jesus faced the ultimate furnace of suffering on the Cross so that our lives, our courage find their truest fulfillment in his death and resurrection. Daniel and friends were far from their home. This world may feel to us sometimes far from what it used to be or or it may just feel unfriendly to things Christians hold dear. But with Jesus, we are closer to our truest home even when living in Babylon.