Always a faithful God

14 November, 2021 33rd Sunday, Year B

A man thrown into a den of hungry lions; three youths cast into a massive furnace; dreams and visions; kings gone mad; angelic beings appearing and disappearing: the Book of Daniel is wild stuff. It certainly captivated Jesus, who identified himself as the visionary’s ‘Son of Man’ riding on the clouds as Lord and Judge of the world.

And Daniel continues to captivate Christians today, who may try to see its obscure symbolisms and elaborate numerical prophecies as cryptic anticipations of contemporary political volatilities in the Middle East and Eastern Europe foreboding the end of the world. The problem with this (well-intentioned) approach is that ‘apocalypse’ in the Bible does not mean ‘end of the world’, but rather, ‘uncovering’ or ‘disclosure’. An apocalypse — and the Book of Daniel is certainly that — is a disclosure from heaven (through dream, vision, or angelic intermediary: all in play in Daniel) about the Creator’s ultimate plan.

An apocalypse like Daniel or the Book of Revelation is meant to uncover the meaning of that great mystery of human purpose hidden in God’s mind. What is the point of history? Of all this suffering and ignorance and loss? God only knows! And those who gain ‘wisdom’ by contemplating his Word with discernment …

Think about the setting of Daniel: it takes place in Babylon. Daniel and his friends have been exiled to this foreign land because of Israel’s covenant failures, as Jeremiah and many prophets had warned. Babylon (‘Ur of the Chaldeans’) is the place from out of which Abraham was originally called. Exile to Babylon meant that God was — astoundingly — taking his whole covenant project back to square one.

The covenant project was the central mission of God to rescue the world from its self-destructive path: God chose Abraham, promising him descendants that would make a great nation through whom ‘all the world would be blessed.’

God gave this people a land and a law, so that they could enlighten the nations regarding God’s desire for human flourishing; he gave them a temple and a king, meant to be the epicenter of true worship and worldwide justice. But Israel failed so egregiously that God took away their king, destroyed the temple, and removed them from their land, setting them in a society that made it difficult, even deadly to practice their God-given law. Daniel’s visions and prophecies are written for those who hold on to hope amid apparent covenant failure. How do they apply to us?

For St Paul, the Gospel is the ‘apocalypse of the mystery’: the death and resurrection of Jesus brings about God’s renewal of true worship (temple) and right living (law) in a worldwide community of faith (land) founded on the universal lordship of Israel’s Messiah (king). What Daniel foresaw; the Church has been experiencing for two millennia.

Don’t be shaken by scandal, controversy, persecution, or failure: sufferings and setbacks came, but God was faithful then. How much more so now with the mystery revealed?

W Chris Hackett

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