DANIEL - SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER
TOO FAMILIAR. The story of Daniel is too familiar to some of us Bible brats. We heard it so often as a child and adolescent that we think we know it. Daniel in the lions den, his three friends in the fiery furnace, interpreting that handwriting on the wall--these are stories that make Daniel memorable. And irrelevant. "Yeah, I know that one," I say in my head even as someone mentions any instance of Daniel.
FRESH PERSPECTIVE. In reality, I don't know his story very well. In fact, I have not studied the book of Daniel seriously as an adult. When I did read this Old Testament account last week, I was struck by his life, circumstances, and witness with fresh perspective. Here is no children's storybook hero, but a refugee who is persecuted for his faith and yet able to speak redemptive truth to the most powerful leaders of his day. How could I have presumed I knew all there was of value in this story for so long?
LINGERING APPLICATIONS. I made the following cursory observations about Daniel as I revisited his life and witness after all these years. Within each one is a boatload of applications for daily personal living as well as global challenges.
1. Being apprehended by Grace and thoroughly embracing the way of Life precedes any redemptive influence our lives may have. Long before Daniel has the opportunity to speak truth to power, he settled the issue of personal faith and integrity. In fact, it is because as a youth he "resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine" and determined to reserve his ultimate allegiance to God that he is blessed to find himself, much further down the road, in a place of influence.
2. Power needs truth spoken to it if wisdom, justice, and grace is to be witnessed and realized in the world. Authority, in Daniel's case, is corrupt and irrational. His king expects the impossible and metes out retribution abusively. He doesn't think straight and the policies that serve his sense of power hurt many people. Sound familiar? I think of Rosa Parks' simple but profound statement to power when she refused to give up her seat on that Montgomery, Alabama bus. If justice was to be realized, ready or not, someone had to speak truth to power. Otherwise, corruption and abuse continues and even strengthen its hand.
SPEAKING TO IRRATIONALITY. I, for one, have been repeatedly baffled at the irrationality of our nation's leadership since 9/11. I think also of many irrational, corrupting or oppressive directives, policies, or accepted norms in our nation and world that beg to be confronted with truth and addressed with wisdom: "acceptable" levels of poverty, blaming the poor, unlivable wages, unaffordable health care, pandering to the richest, human trafficking, throw-away children, and militarism as a nation’s leading virtue, for starters. I'm thankful for those who speak to power regarding these moral challenges. I want to hear the voices of evangelical Christians in these more and more.
3. The God of truth is greater than any earthly power or persons with power over people or outcomes. Because he believes in and appeals to a higher power than the current regime or traditional practices or accepted norms or predominant policies, Daniel is able to envision and articulate an alternative outcome to the foregone conclusions that are apparent. There is a reality and promise beyond what is developed and portrayed through the political system. This is something people of faith must never forget or yield.
FIVE GRACEFUL RESPONSES. Confident that God’s truth and reality is greater and more gracious, I can readily envision five ways are we free to speak grace into relationships, institutions, and dominions:
- In response to offense: forgiveness trumps revenge and retaliation
- In response to misdeeds: redemptive action trumps mere punishment
- In response to discord: reconciliation trumps estrangement, division, and isolation
- In response to the vulnerable: compassion trumps “live and let die,” whether by policy, ignorance, or neglect
- In response to threats: creative wisdom trumps brute force, militarism, and using violence as a legitimate response to perceived evil
4. When you are given opportunity to speak truth to power, do so with awe, creativity, and in the very Spirit of Jesus. Daniel's responses to challenges and threats begin with prayer, reflect his thoughtfulness and imagination, and are carried out with the highest possible impact. As I think of it, the very spirit in which he responded and acted reflected the integrity and character of the God he worshiped.
WISDOM AND IMAGINATION. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas says that those who advocate peaceful responses to violence and evil are not effective not because they are not right, but because they are neither very thoughtful nor very creative. To offer a more compelling response to violence than the ancient pageantry and "shock and awe" of militarism, nonviolent practitioners must think and act more imaginatively. I would add that we must do so in very Spirit of Jesus.