Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.
Daniel 2:27-28 (NIV)
Along my life journey, I’ve witnessed an amazing amount of change. We are in the age of technology, and my generation has arguably witnessed more technological advances in our lifetime than any other generation in human history. Among my favorites in the daily scroll of memes are those that remind me of life in my childhood. It was so, so different.
The change I’ve witnessed, however, has not been merely technological. It has also been cultural, intellectual, and spiritual. It is also said that we are now living in a post-Christian age, and I have observed this shift. Most of the. mainline Protestant denominational institutions that existed and held sway have fractured, imploded, and exist as a shell of their former selves. Church attendance was waning before the pandemic. Recent research shows that COVID accelerated that decline and shuttered many small churches altogether.
Culture wars enflamed by divisive politics, racial tension, and the pandemic seem to have not only accelerated the decline of institutional Christianity but fostered increased antipathy, even hatred. Consider this headline from Time magazine, a headline that was unthinkable from a major news outlet forty years ago: “Regular Christians are No Longer Welcome in American Culture.”
When I was a youth, it was Christian power brokers who sought to use politics and institutions to cancel enemies, threaten opponents, and enforce their ideology across the cultural spectrum. I have observed the pendulum swing to the opposite side in my lifetime. It is a different group of power brokers who have become the dominant voice of culture, canceling enemies and threatening dissenters, silencing opposition, and promoting its ideology as gospel truth that is not to be questioned or doubted.
I live in the most fascinating of times.
I can’t imagine the cultural shift that Daniel experienced as he was pulled from the life he knew, was drug to a foreign land, forced into a re-education program, and placed into the service of the king who destroyed his home and slaughtered his people. And, in the midst of it, God says He wants Daniel and his people to embrace this change and be a blessing to his enemy.
A couple of days ago, I wrote of the “wilderness” that Jung and Campbell noticed every hero goes through in all the great stories. The fourth step in that wilderness journey is that the hero “encounters allies and enemies, undergoes challenges from which no escape seems possible. The stakes are clearly life and death.“
In today’s chapter, Daniel finds himself with just such a challenge. The King has a dream and demands that his magicians, astrologers, enchanters, and wise men both tell him what the dream was and what it meant. If they don’t, he’s going to kill them all, including our hero Daniel and his friends. Daniel and his friends pray, and God gives Daniel the answer in a night vision.
When Daniel approaches the king the following day, he makes clear that he had no part in divining the answer and interpretation, but “there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” The title “God of Heaven” is a title used by Abraham back in Genesis, but then it doesn’t appear again until the exile and post-exile writings of Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah. It appears that Daniel found a name for God that was acceptable to both him and his pagan Persian enemy. He finds a way to bridge the cultural gap and introduce the king to his God who has “raised him up” despite his ignorance of the fact. God making Himself known to King Nebuchadnezzar is a theme in Daniel’s story arc.
In the quiet this morning, I think about myself as a disciple of Jesus living in a culture that I observe becoming increasingly oppositional. At the same time, I observe fellow believers becoming angry, defiant, and oppositional in return. I, however, see in Daniel’s story an example to follow. If I truly believe what I say I believe, this includes the truth of Daniel’s prayer in today’s chapter:
“[God] changes times and seasons;
he deposes kings and raises up others.”
If God was in control, even in the change of “times and seasons” that Daniel experienced being thrust into Babylonian captivity, then I think I have to consider the change in times and seasons I have witnessed and experienced to also be part of the Great Story that God is authoring. And if that is true, then Daniel’s example of remaining faithful in the courts of his enemy and humbly finding ways to introduce his enemy to God is an example I think God would have me follow in similar (albeit not as extreme…yet) circumstances.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.