My Dad and I were discussing the election the other day; I commented how elections always seem to generally bring out the scariest version of people. Among the constant sense of upheaval and uncertainty, deep-seeded fears and ferocities seem to gradually emerge with every counted vote. Even Christians may sometimes feel their support of a particular candidate somehow trumps the cultivation of Christ-centered fruitfulness.
Since America’s election process is spread out over so long a period, there’s no shortage of time and opportunity for candidates to outdo one another on positions and personality in clashes that are only matched, if not surpassed, by the ire of their supporters. I understand the democratic process must do its thing; where I feel strained is the intense sense of finality often placed on elections. As far back as I can remember and have read, every single election was supposed to have determined the fate of the world. I’ve heard plenty of similar sentiments in these recent weeks. I get it; regardless of how desires and support manifests, deep down people want hope and assurance that everything will be okay. Regarding that, I’d like to share something that helps me remember hope and foster trust amidst all the drum beating.
Most of us remember the prophet Daniel from Sunday School as the guy amongst the lions. His story is much broader than that.
Daniel was a man who had a front row seat to many of history’s crossroads. He was born and raised in Judah, but when King Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem, Daniel witnessed his own city and cultural narrative come to a tragic chapter many assumed was the end as he and his countrymen were exiled to the land of Babylon. An intelligent young man, however, endowed with wisdom and discernment, Daniel appeared an ideal candidate to serve in the king’s court. His commitment to Jewish dietary and ethical standards helped set him apart from his peers, distinguishing his abilities as a counselor, and enabled him to thrive despite his strange situation. In this he learned the possible end of his culture did not necessitate the end of his character and convictions. As a counselor to Nebuchadnezzar, he would demonstrate what people of faith can be when they are in situations they would rather not be.
As if the traumatic upheaval and transition to a whole new land and culture was not enough, Daniel would eventually witness another of history’s most critical crossroads. After Nebuchadnezzar’s death, Babylon soon fell to the invading Persian Empire. Still recognized as a worthy counselor, Daniel once again found himself at the service of a conquering king. His faithfulness would soon be intensely challenged by royal advisors whose conspiring would put Daniel into the lions’ den. His reemergence the following day, however, would affirm to the Persian king the validity of Daniel’s God, again demonstrating how a person of faith can play a redeeming role within a hostile culture.
The greatest crossroad of history Daniel would witness, however, would be seen from afar. During both the rule of Babylon and Persia, Daniel was given a glimpse to the future of not only his own people, but of all the world; of a time during which “the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which will never be destroyed”, and a Son of Man, approaching the throne of God, will be “given dominion, glory, and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations and men of every language might serve Him.”
These visions that illuminated Daniel were the very words declared by Jesus centuries later during the peak of the ironclad Roman Empire; into that tense, politically charged atmosphere Jesus proclaimed the good news that Kingdom of Heaven was at hand. As Christians, we look to Jesus’ death on the cross as that cumulative moment that consolidated his authority to enact this kingdom reality amongst the nations, to unite them in service to God and each other. This is what we as Christians are to always bear witness to as we live at the crossroads of history and the future.
Since, as Paul wrote, “there is no authority except from God”, the nations—be they Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, or America—each rule in their time. Since “rulers are servants of God”, whether Nebuchadnezzar, Darius, Alexander, Caesar, or our next president, each take their turn governing their generation. But regardless of kings and countries, it is the rule of Christ and its redemptive reality that God-in-the-Church is sowing, cultivating, and growing within our cultural and international soils, whose “foliage was beautiful and its fruit abundant, and in it was food for all. The beasts of the field found shade under it, and the birds of the sky dwelt in its branches, and all living creatures fed themselves from it.”
Daniel’s life and character show us how to behave when everything else seems to be or is crumbling. His consistency of holy character during inconsistent times was rooted in the knowledge that, as Eugene Peterson writes, “more important than the people of this place or the conditions of this place is the God of this place.”
Daniel shows people of faith that difficult seasons do not excuse us from embodying holy character. Difficult seasons can actually serve to legitimize that character. Daniel experienced the loss of countrymen and his homeland, exile to a strange land and culture, pressure to compromise his convictions, the overthrow of his captors by new ones, conspiracies on his life, the burden of his people’s questionable future. He endured this all without surrendering to cynicism, anxiety, malice, fear mongering, or the worship of powerful figures.
I do not know what this season will give shape to, but like Daniel amongst the Babylonians and Persians, I believe history is influenced by everyday people whose faith moves them to live redemptively amongst their neighbors and enemies while cultivating a fruitfulness that conveys the hope of Christ. May the most important results throughout this election season be the fruit of God’s Spirit yielding in you the person of Christ Jesus.