Monday, October 12, 2009

The Daniel Blogs: Faith

I have found myself speaking about Daniel at a few different events and services so am going to try to put together the sum of those parts in a series of posts...

Before I left Ireland to go to Africa one of the things I was particularly saddened by was that I was leaving my family behind. I have been amazingly blessed with a family which loves me and is loved by me. And I was so sad to be leaving them. A verse I drew comfort from and took quite literally is found at the end of the story of the rich young ruler in Mark. Jesus has just had an encounter with someone who did not realise that if he gave his whole life to God that he would be given his whole life back. Jesus is thinking about this in Mark 10 v 29 when he says, ‘Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.” In Africa this verse was lived out as I found new brothers and sisters and mothers. Another home. A bigger family. You may have noticed that father’s aren’t repeated in the list of the hundred fold. Some commentators believe that this is an intentional omission. They suggest that Jesus was making a statement to a culture where father’s held all the authority and did all the providing. Jesus was saying that only God is worthy to be seen as our true Father, the Provider, the Authority, the King. Only God is sovereign.

When we meet Daniel he has been captured by invaders and dragged off to a foreign kingdom. He has found himself at one of the climactic points in Jewish history when, by failing to follow their creator God, Yahweh, they are being driven in to exile. God’s instrument in the destruction of Jerusalem was King Nebuchadnezzar, the King of Babylon. One of the themes of the book of Daniel is that God is in control, that he is sovereign. Daniel knew this and so he knew that he owed God his allegiance. And because he knew that God was sovereign, and therefore in control, he had faith that although everything looked chaotic it was in reality far from it. The first clue that the whirlwind Daniel found himself in was not a chaotic one is found right at the start of the story when we find out that Nebuchadnezzar was only able to take control of Jerusalem because it was delivered by God.

One thing that may have helped Daniel hold on to the truth of God’s sovereignty was his memory of the words of Jeremiah - he may even have been there when he said them. We read about it in Jeremiah 25 v 11 - “This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” Daniel knew that this was deserved. In chapter 9 we actually see Daniel praying to God and he acknowledges that justice was being done to the Hebrews. In verse 14 he continues, “Therefore the Lord has kept ready his calamity and has brought it upon us, for the Lord our God is righteous in all the works he has done, and we have not obeyed his voice.” But Daniel was not without hope. Because he would also have known what Jeremiah said in verse 12 of Chapter 25. “Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, declares the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.”

The Bible has similar messages of caution and hope for us. Caution about the hatred that the world might throw at us - promises of persecution like in the passage from Mark I started this post with. Hope in the Kingdom that has come and of the Kingdom that is coming - promises of life in all its abundance. Might these spark the kind of faith we see in Daniel who, when he prays to the Father in verses 18 and 19 of Daniel 9, prays with passion and faith and hope: “O my God, incline your ear and hear. Open your eyes and see our desolations, and the city that is called by your name. For we do not present our pleas before you because of our righteousness, but because of your great mercy. 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”?

What is amazing about Daniel is that he believed that God was in control and that he would, as Paul writes in Romans, “work all things together for good”, without knowing the end of the story. Think about that for a while. Think about what it must have been like for Daniel to be taken away from Jerusalem, where God dwelt, and brought in to the heart of his enemy’s kingdom. Without knowing the end of the story. I was talking to my Grandfather some time ago about his service in World War Two and he was explaining to me that while the battle of Stalingrad waged in Russia, he was in Iraq. If the Germans had defeated the Russians in that battle the oil fields of Iraq would have soon been a target and he would have found himself on another front line. And I just couldn’t stop thinking about what it must have been like to not know the end of that story. For someone like me who was not alive then, or even during the Cold War, it is quite an amazing thought. What must that have been like – not knowing the ending? Phillip Yancey writes that, “Faith means believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse. ... Trusting in God’s ultimate goodness, a goodness that exists outside of time, a goodness that time has not yet caught up with.”

What Daniel did was hold on to his faith in God and believe that he was there even when he maybe couldn’t see him. Because even though the Bible tells us that God is always with us it is not always easy to feel him. Psalms 139 v 7 is often quoted to encourage us about God’s omnipresence: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” But in Chapter 23 v 8 Job, who is going through a time of dreadful suffering says, “Behold, I go forwards, but he is not there, and backwards, but I do not perceive him.” Faith is about trusting that God is with us even when we can’t see him. It is about trusting him even though we don’t know the details of the ends of our stories. Daniel’s is a story full of faith.

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