Friday, November 14, 2014

Honor in Exile

I Voted Sticker
I voted. 

It was the first time in more than a decade.  I'm not lazy, honest.  For most of those years I was abroad, and for all of them I was deeply conflicted about the candidates, finding them all so distasteful that I couldn't bring myself to endorse any of them.

I'm trying again.

A couple of weeks ago we talked in passing about what Christians should do when they live in a nation that may fall under God's wrath.  Melissa (who edits for me because otherwise I would be altogether unintelligible) suggested that paragraph and further suggested that I write an entire post-election article about the topic. 

I didn't want to. 

I'm positively apolitical and barely aware of the last 10 years of American pop culture let alone politics.  And besides, I am far better suited to explain what a person should do in a place where the government actively jails those who follow God. 

So I'm going to talk about that instead.

Take Daniel for an example.  Although Nebuchadnezzar was pursued by Yahweh, and occasionally even acknowledged His great power, he was the ongoing enemy of God's people (Daniel 4:34-37).  He carried away the sons of the nobility, besieged Jerusalem,  destroyed the temple and blackmailed the people into idolatry (Daniel 1:1-4, 2 Chronicles 36:15-21, Daniel 3).  This is the very definition of a hostile government.  The worst persecution being suffered by the faithful today is little worse.

So what did one of the earliest exiles do?

Undermine the king at every opportunity?  Bemoan the state of things and wish for the old days?  Give half-hearted obedience?

Daniel had a different strategy.  He was social, friendly, and an excellent negotiator.  While a wise man in training, he was faced with a requirement to eat unclean food at the King's court.  What did Daniel do?  Go on a hunger strike?  Call the human right's activists?  Secretly begin meeting with other Hebrews to plot a palace coup?  Nope. He politely asked if a trial could be conducted to see if some veggies and water (clean non-idolatrous food!) would be as healthy.  They were (Daniel 1).

Not only did Daniel act gently in this situation, he showed great wisdom in many other difficulties.  By faith and prayer he extracted himself and his friends from a death sentence.  That's extraordinary, but what's really striking for the discussion at hand is that Daniel didn't seem to hold a grudge.  Instead he served the government faithfully day in and day out for years.  Bad dreams didn't stop him (Daniel 2).  Giant idol statues and furnaces of fire threatening his dearest friends didn't stop him (Daniel 3).  Visions of Nebuchadnezzar becoming a wild man didn't stop him (Daniel 4).  Even changing to a whole different empire and an entirely different king didn't slow him down (Daniel 6).  Daniel served a hostile government with honor, discretion, and wisdom all the days of his exile (Daniel 1:20-21).

So when I lived in a place where people were discouraged from their faith, when I visited a place where the bones of those who had died for their faith were buried, when I talked with people who had sat in jail, lost their jobs, or risked their families to keep serving Christ, I thought of Daniel.

Evil is not battled with a sword.

In America the government is passive-aggressive rather than openly hostile.  Persecution here is at its barest beginnings (trust me fines and nights in jail are pretty mild in the grand scheme of things).  So do we have anything in common with Daniel's situation?

Everything! Because all the children of God are strangers here.  We, too serve in a world where God is little known and less respected. If your candidate won, if he lost, if our government grows closer to our Savior, or if it moves further away, what will we do differently?  Won't we pray, and witness,  love the ones who spitefully use us, and serve wholeheartedly?  We'll serve with honor, discretion, and wisdom all the days of our exile.

In part I voted this time because it seemed a kind of wholehearted service.  And perhaps a proper way to give feet to my prayers. I hope you'll take courage from Daniel's story and comfort from the reminder that you are far from your proper home where the King reigns in peace and justice.


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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