Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Daniel Blogs: Control

In verse two of Daniel chapter one, we read about the vessels that were taken from the temple and desecrated by being placed in the house of Nebuchadnezzar’s own god. One of the lessons about God’s sovereignty that we can learn from the story of Daniel is that God does not NEED us. So often people think they need to fight God’s battles for him. I often think that when I listen to Christians on the radio shouting about some moral issue or another. They talk as if God needs defending. As if the state of ‘moral decline’ in their country all depends on them putting forward a convincing argument and talking louder than everyone else. Reflecting on God’s sovereignty should not lead us in to inaction, “Oh well if God can do it all I will just sit down and be quiet”, but it should give us a more healthy perspective of where we fit in to things. God often chooses to use us but we shouldn’t get too carried away with how needed we are. What we see in Daniel with these sacred objects so desecrated by Nebuchadnezzar is an example of God acting alone. He doesn’t need Daniel and his boys fighting his battles for him, storming or picketing King Neb’s temple, phoning Stephen Nolan or going on hunger strike. When Nebuchadnezzar’s son, Belshazzar fails to learn from his father’s mistakes and adds insult to injury by using these vessels at a party, God writes his death sentence on the wall. Everyone is answerable to God. God raises rulers and he puts them down. He is the only one in control.

I think a lot of us try and avoid that reality. We so want to have that control and so many of us seem to float through life thinking that in fact we do have it. This is particularly true perhaps of people who live in Europe and America, the Western World. Because when we have control then we will be safe. And maybe above all things we wish for safety. So we must have control. And we have in fact learned that when we work together and when we work hard and when we study hard and when we are creative and when we let the market lead us, we can actually “control” an awful lot. We can control metal and steel and chemicals and viruses and bacteria and radio waves and electricity and we can control the atoms and electrons that it is all made of. It is not like that in other parts of the world. People in Sierra Leone are under far less of an illusion about the control they have over their lives...something they have learned too often under tragic circumstances. When there is a disaster, when a hurricane comes out of nowhere or a disease suddenly takes hold, we are really shaken because suddenly we realise that we aren’t in control.

A friend of mine recently got sick. One moment she was fine and then suddenly I was in an ICU waiting room in the middle of the night. I couldn’t believe it – I had been living in a country where diarrhoea is one of the biggest killers but I had been under the illusion that in the ‘West’ we had all these diseases cracked – we had antibiotics for everything. But we don’t. The fear that strikes when we realise that our grip on life is an illusion is incredible and spreads like one of the epidemics that tend to unveil our trusted smoke and mirrors. But in what direction does that fear compel us? At a youth fellowship weekend I was asked to speak at recently one of the girls told me that she had been sent home from school for a week because she coughed in class and looked a bit under the weather, the fear being that she might have swine flu. That is the direction we take. We set up check points and we racially profile and we spray things and we lock things down and we use hand sanitizer and we stop our kids playing in the street and we DO more and more things in an attempt to reassure ourselves that the control we had lost can be regained. That things might have BEEN out of control but the measures WE have put in place have restored the situation. We are back in control. Until the next time.

We are not in control. We need to look to our Father who is sovereign. One of my favourite songs which my little brothers and sisters in the COTN children’s village in Sierra Leone sing has the line – “What man cannot do for me my God has done.” This line carries a lot of weight when sung by children who have been lifted up from the street, from misery, from slavery, from fear, from sickness, from war, from CHAOS and been given health, an education, a home, a family, life, love. Do they still struggle? Of course. Do they get sad? Of course. Are they sometimes afraid? Of course. Find me the person who is none of these things. But many of them trust in a God who is good and good all the time. A God who loves them and will love them all the time. A God who is in control and will always be in control, though we may not understand the dynamics of that control and how it is exercised in the context of free will and our fallen world. In Chronicles we read of a King called Jehosephat and we see him pray a great prayer when surrounded by enemies – “Lord, I do not know what to do so I look to you.” That is the direction we should head when all seems spinning out of control. When we do we might just hear the words so often repeated when the people we read about in the Bible have an encounter with the divine or the angelic, “Do not be afraid.”

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