16 Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” 17 A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. 18 Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
19 Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions.20 When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?” 21 Daniel then said to the king, “O king, and live forever! 22 My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.” 23 Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. 24 The king gave a command, and those who had accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces. (Daniel 6:16-24 NRSV)
Over the next three weeks I hope to share a view of God, and how we can live in the light of that view. I plan to do it through the lens of biblical animals. Now there are many animals that could have been the focus of this series. There are doves and dogs, goats and sheep, serpents and fish. Three weeks? We could spend three months talking about animals and the bible. I believe the three I have chosen help us understand God better. Today, the subject is lions.
When we think biblical lions the first thing to come to mind should be strong and dangerous. This was a time period where the wilderness was free to roam. Lions attacked travelers. It was something that happened. We don’t hear about lion attacks in the Middle East today, because they were poached to extinction. Back then, they were commonplace. This is why it shouldn’t surprise you to hear lions are mentioned some 145 times. Just putting it out there, many scholars doubt this exact story actually happened. There are historical issues, and no written proof of a King Darius. What they don’t doubt, is someone could be thrown into a lion’s den and sealed up as punishment.
Here’s the rub. I want to know what we can do with the text. I don’t want to stand in front of you and repeat over and over about our God being an awesomely strong God. Yeah, yeah, yeah, God is strong, but what do we do with that? I’m also not about to rehash the lesson we learned in Children’s Church. We’ve all heard it, “Do God’s will no matter what the consequences. We’re adults. We know sometimes doing the right thing means being put into the lion’s den and having the lions devour us. Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind. He did the right thing, and was assassinated doing it. Those early Christians who were martyred in coliseums comes to mind too. Christianity is right, but it’s rarely easy. Even Jesus warned us of the cost of following him saying, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles.” (Matt 10:16-18 NRSV)
Only, what I just said doesn’t preach in relation to our Hebrew Bible scripture for today. Do the right thing no matter what the consequences? Daniel did the right thing, and it was relatively painless and easy. Actually, knowing Jesus’ words, it’s rather cruel to teach the classic “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” sermon. “Do God’s will and everything will be A-O-K!” “Oh, you were hurt doing God’s will? Are you sure you prayed hard enough?” I feel icky just saying it. That’s why I’m not going there. I’m going somewhere different. Somewhere unexpected.
I’ve only been in ordained ministry for five and a half years. I personally have a hard time believing that. So much has happened in that short period of time. Seriously, just call me Abednego, because I’ve been thrown in the fire and tempered instead of burned. I know what it feels like to be in darkness and know God was with me. This isn’t about me. As diverse as the past five and a half years have been, I’ve heard the same story so many times. I’ve heard it in church. I’ve heard it from friends. I’ve heard it online. I’ve heard it so much I could share it with you now, and probably connect with at least a few of you. You might even think I’m telling your story even though we might never have shared a conversation.
There comes a time, in quite a few people’s lives, where they find themselves in their own lion’s den. Maybe they lost their job, and they don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. Maybe they lost everything, and now they are on the street. Maybe they’ve become addicted to something they cannot let go of. Maybe they’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness. Or maybe, they lost someone close to them. Usually, at some point, all of us find ourselves there. We never ask to be put in that metaphorical den, but somehow or another, we find ourselves there, sealed in.
Today I’m not going to tell you to be Daniel. When we are in those positions we have no other choice but to be Daniel. I am telling you to be something though. When you see someone in their own den, we must be the lions.
Let me explain. In the book of Job, Job was blameless. He lost almost everything. He lost his property. He lost his health. He lost all of his children. In the way of his people, he mourned. He sat an ash heap, and put on sackcloth. His friends sat with him. He sat in silence for maybe weeks. When he finally talked, he cried out to God to explain why he was going through such torment.
Rule number one, when dealing with a person in crisis, they are going to cry out. They are going to say things they may or may not believe because they are in pain. Think of a wounded animal. If you touch them, will they not bite out at you? It’s a defense mechanism. We should never be angry when people yelp or bite in their own pain.
Rule number two, theology does not belong in the midst of crisis. Theology can be discussed when both parties are level headed. No one in crisis can look at issues with clarity. People need time and space. What did those friends do? They spent most of the book chastising Job. Basically one said, “Well, maybe you didn’t realize what you did wrong, but you did something wrong to cause this misfortune upon you.” Another said, “Stop saying that God is wrong! That’s impossible.” Then the third: “Just ask for forgiveness and move on. Things will get better.”
When God finally comes and talks to Job, Job is indeed blameless. You know who isn’t? The friends. In the end, Job has to make sacrifices to redeem the friends. I believe, their failure to understand a person in crisis was their sin. Which gets me back to the lions. There is little we can do when we are the ones in crisis, when we are Daniel. When we are the one around the person in crisis, when we are the lions, God often calls us to shut our mouth. Yeah, there are actions that need to be taken to help a person in crisis. Most of us are not the angels in the room qualified to give it. We are the lions, and even if our nature is to lie with the calf, our mouth is a powerful and dangerous weapon. Our actions and words have the ability to destroy someone who is already in darkness.
I've often prayed for God to show me how to act. In 5 ½ years I learned a new prayer, for God to show me when to leave something alone. I’ve learned, when sitting with someone in that den, sometimes the best gift is silence and presence. It’s in letting God act in as much in your non-action as your action, we can find God in that darkness.