When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. (Daniel 6:10)
The danger many evangelicals in the West face today is that they will become embittered by the rising cultural tide threatening to sweep them away, and react by looking backwards to a golden past, instead of looking forwards to a truly golden age. And if the photo above doesn’t betray that vain hope, then I don’t know what does.
The Trump show (watched from abroad by millions of US politics junkies) has illustrated something we have known for some time. Many evangelicals who struggle with the post-Christian framework; the outright hostility shown by the cultural elites towards their faith (the ABC syndrome, aka Anything But Christianity); and the attendant seismic ethical shifts and downright shoves in areas of sexuality and the understanding of what constitutes humanity, will be tempted to get angry as they look back at what they had. They may seek to recover it by fair means or foul. And not just in the USA, but across the Western world.
Now don’t get me wrong here. The call to look forwards not backwards, is not the spurious, survival-instinct parody of the same name, currently demonstrated by many post-evangelicals in the West.
This cohort, having drunk the Kool Aid of a new form of half-way house liberalism, find themselves with a case of the staggers, stumbling around burping “me too” all of the time, and spending their hard earned credibility like a drunken sailor on shore leave.
You know the type I mean, almost too many to name now. But we’ve all read their big statement blog posts, heard their new announcement sermons, downloaded their change of heart discussion papers to not be aware of it.
Why is it that so many popular Christian leaders suddenly and publicly align with the new morality being established in our culture?
I say “suddenly”, but in fact, it’s not sudden at all. If you do your homework and follow the timelines of these folks back a few years, you realise their first shift was theological.
Ethics flows from theology. If we’d paid more attention to the theological drought upstream we wouldn’t have been so surprised at the ensuing ethical desert downstream. Ad fontes, as we could put it.
The result of this parody of “looking forward” is a gaggle of leaders desperately parroting the words the culture has just uttered, only a half a second later. And all the while frantically convincing themselves (and us) that they are indeed ahead of the cultural curve, not simply reacting to it.
Christian history shows that the craven desire for acceptance by the culture will help people flame bright – for a while. But it’s a vain hope. Like a dying tree throwing out a final, desperate flourish, the sap will dry up, the roots will shrivel, and the fruit will shrink and disappear. And we know what Jesus says about fruitless trees.
If that’s what I don’t mean by looking forward, what do I mean by it? This is where Daniel 6 is helpful (the final historical chapter before the book goes all apocalyptic on us).
When Daniel opens his window towards Jerusalem and prays three times a day after the king’s edict is signed, he is not praying for a return to the Jerusalem of old. Nope, that city is gone. He is not pining for some golden age. To paraphrase Don Henley’s Boys of Summer, that city is gone forever, he should just let it go, and guess what, he does!
In the light of Daniel’s dilemma, in which the king’s leaders are jealous of Daniel and his uncanny, and extremely annoying, habit of being promoted due to his integrity, Daniel resolves not to obey the king’s foolish edict to petition any other person or god for 30 days other than the king.
God is off the agenda in Babylon for Daniel, but he doesn’t moan and whine about it.
His integrity does not consist of a grumpy moralism that yearns for the city that was before (it was pretty bad to be honest, just read the end of 2Kings). No, his integrity consists of a joyous holiness that yearns for the city that is to come.
Hence Daniel’s first reaction to the evil edict of his haters is to trust God for the future. He opens the windows of Jerusalem not to pine but to pray.
Daniel prays looking forward to the new Jerusalem (even though he will never see it). Yet this new Jerusalem that was still a few decades away from his time, is itself a shadow of the new new Jerusalem that is to come (which by faith Daniel knows he will see!).
The Biblical Theology framework, the progressive redemption pattern of the story, is crucial. The story is looking for, yearning for a more complete fulfilment. Here are three examples:
Firstly, just as Daniel, in whom the rulers “could find no ground for complaint or any fault, for he was faithful and no error or fault was found in him” (6:4), refused to obey the laws of the ruler of this age for the sake of his own skin, the truly faithful one, the Lord Jesus, refused the temptations of Satan to bow down and worship him alone for the sake of his own skin.
Secondly, just as faithful, faultless Daniel was lowered down to death in a pit of lions, so too the truly faithful, faultless one – the Lord Jesus – was lowered into death.
Thirdly, just as Daniel come back up alive to the delight of the king, and the horror and subsequent destruction of his enemies due to his innocence, so too the Lord Jesus pacified the roaring lion of Death through his innocence, resulting in the destruction of not only his ultimate enemy, but our ultimate enemy too.
Make no mistake, everything about Daniel, is looking forwards, not looking backwards. And it’s exactly the case with his prayer towards Jerusalem. It’s not the pining, impotent rage of what should have been, but the joyful, powerful hope of what will be.
Daniel’s experience is repeated and completed by Jesus, who for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising its shame. Jesus was not looking backwards to the glory he had with the Father, but looking forwards to the glory to come.
And just as Daniel was exalted to leadership by the king, so too Jesus, perfected for all time by his obedience will rule and reign as the new Jerusalem’s true king to the glory of his Father.
So how might exiles hope for the new Jerusalem in this Daniel and Jesus way, rather than hanker for the old Jerusalem?
Here are but a few suggestions, which you can add to at your leisure:
- By not giving the likes of a Donald Trump a tick at the ballot box when he promises to return power to Christians like the good old days. Jesus refused to bypass the cross on the way to glory tempted by Satan. Why should we have it any different?
- By not placarding and getting angry about the way the culture is squeezing us. In other words, not pining for the perceived cultural advantages of the past afforded Christians, or pushing for its return at all costs, but instead living joyously and richly as the perceived cultural losers, knowing that the back of the book says Jesus will win for his people.
- By not forming isolated and isolationist Christian compounds that are defined by what they are against rather than what they are for, but instead being open to listen to, and welcome, people opposed to us, in order that the gospel we proclaim and live might change them.
- By living modestly in a greedy culture, purely in an impure culture, generously in a selfish culture, and gracefully in a bitter culture, reflecting the reality that our desires and treasures are safe in the new Jerusalem.
- By refusing to start coasting through life by the age of fifty or so, keeping our heads down, waiting for our pension and trip around Australia/Route 66, but rather becoming strong mature leaders of God’s younger people, generous with our time and finances, and ably guiding those who are going to need all the wisdom they can muster in the coming decades.
- By refusing to wallow in the self pity of the what was, but never will be again of the declining culture and instead revelling in the now but not yet of the gathering kingdom .
For what does the end of the book of Daniel remind us? It reminds us to look forward in the midst of the turmoil, because there is our vindication:
” But go your way till the end. And you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.” (Daniel 12:13)