The book of Daniel has much to say to Christians living in 21st century western culture. Like Daniel, we live in a kind of exile dominated by religious relativism and a lust for power and wealth. Obedience to one God and a lifestyle of simplicity are choices that often leave one feeling displaced, like the Israelites of Psalm 137 who sit and weep by the waters of Babylon. And, like Daniel, we too await the just and glorious reign of our true Messiah and King.
In the meantime, we Christians must find ways to evangelize a world that is not so friendly toward Christian mission. I think Daniel has a few methods that just might speak to those of us who feel at a loss as to how faithfulness can be lived out in a world largely opposed to faith.
First, when Daniel is chosen for a prominent position in the royal court, he “resolved that he would not defile himself…” (1:8). Already Daniel has decided that, no matter what, he is not going to entertain opportunities that are at odds with God’s law and God’s purposes for human life. He is sold out to his Lord. The finest wine and most tender ham hocks will not make it into his diet. “Daniel resolved that he would not…” How foreign those words seem to our world of frivolous New Year’s Resolutions and arbitrary affirmations of whatever is in vogue. And holiness? The idea of being set apart to God – well, currently that isn’t a very popular position to take, and many who do opt for holy lives seem to forget that charity is a chief characteristic of holiness. Don’t get me wrong. Figuring out how to live winsomely as those set apart for God presents a really tough challenge.
But again, Daniel is an excellent role model.
He does not seek to be anti-government or even anti-culture. He accepts his promoted position and serves a foreign king faithfully. He works magnanimously with royal officials of differing religions and worldviews, some of whom want to see Daniel ripped apart by lions. Daniel does not shut himself up in his bedroom with his Bible, refusing to be “polluted” by the world that surrounds him. He puts his God-given skills to work in learning the culture. In fact, God actually gives Daniel “learning and skill in all literature and wisdom” (1:17)! Then he uses these skills to serve those around him, and in some cases, lead them to acknowledge the true God of heaven and earth (4:1-3, 34-37). Here is a picture of the Christian whom Karl Barth says must hold a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other, but interpret the newspaper through the lens of the Bible. Daniel lives into his time and his culture, but does so in a way faithful to God and his word.
Finally, Daniel maintains a posture of repentance on behalf of his sinful people, and pleads for the Lord’s merciful guidance: “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive. O Lord, pay attention and act. Delay not, for your own sake, O my God, because your city and your people are called by your name” (9:19). Shortly after Daniel’s intercession for guidance and restoration, he is visited by Gabriel who ensures him that he is heard and loved. “At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved” (9:23). Daniel then receives a vision of the future which culminates in the faithful righteous being raised to eternal life and shining “like the brightness of the sky above” (12:2-3). When we pray for God’s mercy on behalf of the Church, on behalf of humanity, we too are heard and loved. We too will be granted a vision of the glorious end toward which we work, and we will be sustained to carry on to completion that work which Christ has called us to do (Php. 1:6).
What can we learn from Daniel’s missiological wisdom? To – first and foremost — be resolutely and obediently committed to God; to be engaged in the literature of our times, and to use that cultural wisdom to winsomely point others to the true and living God. All of this, of course, sustained by a prayerful vision of resurrection in the Promised Land.
– C. MacMillan ’16