“Lying Lions Don’t Lie”
Grown-up Bible Stories: Part 3
Romans 8:18-27; Daniel 6:14-24
Rev. Phillip Blackburn
April 29, 2018
Daniel was something of a prodigy. He was living in Babylon, having been moved there with many of his fellow Jews when Judah was overthrown by the Babylonians. When the exiles arrived, they were sorted and he, along with three other Jews, were moved into the king’s household to serve as counselors. Daniel quickly gained prominence. The King had a dream and none of his seers or wise men could interpret it. So Daniel stepped up, claiming that he would be the one who could interpret the King’s dream. And he did. This helped David climb the ranks in the court.
It reminds me of a friend of mine named Scott. I first met Scott at a reunion weekend for Lake Fellows, that was the name of the residency program of which Tasha and I were a part, at Second Presbyterian in Indianapolis. I had missed Scott by two years, but we hit it off quickly. I saw him again when we joined the Presidential roundtable at Louisville Seminary. Tasha and I, and Scott and his wife Lara, were the only people under 60 on the thing, so we quickly banded together. Scott’s first church was in rural Pennsylvania, and every time he would talk about it, I could tell he was doing well there. He had incredible energy and enthusiasm and ideas, and I knew he would not be there forever, and sure enough, he was not. He moved to a large congregation in Wisconsin. He was climbing the ranks.
So Daniel continued his work in the court and maintained a strong presence there. Kings came and went, but Daniel survived because of his wisdom and because, in truth, it seems God wanted him there. But this aroused jealousy in those around him. While he was in exile and far away from his home, Daniel maintained his faith and was devoted to God. So he prayed three times daily in the direction of Jerusalem. Well, this was a weakness his enemies could exploit. There was a new King, Darius, and so they got him to issue a decree that said all citizens had to worship the king and only the king. Darius, being said King, thought this was a capital idea, and he agreed. The only problem? Daniel did not change his practices, and so immediately his enemies in the court pointed out to the King that Daniel was still praying to Jerusalem. The King, who was a Daniel fan, mind you, tried to give him a pass, but the advisers were not having it. They pointed out that the King, even the King, had to abide by his own rules. Daniel was pinched.
So Scott was at his new church and he was rocking along nicely. They had been through some tough times with a bad pastor prior to his arrival, and he was in the process of getting them sorted out. But then he started to feel tired. He figured this was just stress and the general fatigue of trying to raise four little kids, so he ignored it. But it didn’t go away. He finally went to the doctor. Tests were run, but nothing came back. A few things were tried, but he was not feeling any better. At this point, I remember hearing about his illness and thinking, “that’s no good, but I am sure they will get it figured out.” Scott was 38 at the time they finally diagnosed him with an advanced form of cancer.
So Daniel was convicted. He had been unfaithful to his King and now there would be a punishment. A capital punishment. Daniel was brought to the Lions’ Den. Now, before we proceed, I imagine this was a fairly grisly place. It would have been dark and ominous and foreboding. And here is Daniel, brought here for this bad death, and here is the King, still regretting his stupid decree from earlier. He tells Daniel, may your God deliver you! But we can imagine this is more of a desperate sort of benediction than anything that carries any real hope. David is placed into the Lions’ den, and the stone door is sealed, along with his fate, behind him.
So they threw the kitchen sink at Scott. They did chemo. They did radiation. And they did it fast. This was a young man with a young family, beloved by hundreds of people. Everything went toward getting him well, but it wasn’t working. He was not getting well. And so there was one final thing to try, an induced coma. Scott was weak and emaciated. His kids and family and wife gathered in the room. Lara, his wife, wrote an amazing caring bridge entry about the scene. There was a certain habit she and Scott had of saying goodbye to one another, a special way they did it, and so since they knew it was possible that this would be goodbye, they did it for what might have been the final time. Everyone cried, and then the stone door was sealed, he was placed in the coma, and everyone held their breath.
Darius stayed up all night fretting over David, and he darn well should have since his idiocy got them all into this situation. He fasted. He prayed. And then, as soon as day broke he raced back to the Lions’ Den. The stone was rolled back and, what happened? Daniel walked right out of that den. He proclaimed then and there that he was innocent of all blame and because he had been faithful to God, the Lord had sent his angel and protected him from the Lions. Darius was elated. Daniel was, we can imagine, also elated. You know who wasn’t elated? The conspirators, because now it was their turn to enter the den, and they would not be saved. But Daniel had been saved; he was out of the Den.
Scott never left the Lions’ den. He never awoke from his medically induced coma. Scott died at the age of 38. He had a wife, four kids, and a large congregation which he had served for just over a year. Scott was one of the most faithful, thoughtful people I have ever met, and yet when the stone was rolled away from his Lions’ Den, he did not emerge.
And this brings us to the crux of the problem with children’s stories. In the Spark Children’s Bible version of this story, Daniel emerges from the den and shouts, “God always keeps me safe!” Now, you live long enough and you grow up and you see things and you know that God doesn’t always keep people safe. Does Daniel sometimes emerge from the Lions’ Den in life? Yes. Of course. But sometimes too Scott doesn’t awaken from the coma. Sometimes God does not keep us safe. And when our faith stays in the children’s Bible realm, we simply cannot process this. Why didn’t God save Scott? Did Scott do something wrong? Did God not care? Is God not there? When our faith never grows up, this is what we are left with, or the even worse conclusion, well, it was God’s Will. To all of those things, I say hogwash.
So where does that leave us? I go back to the beginning of the Daniel story, to the dedication which led him to the Lions’ Den to begin with. Daniel prayed toward Jerusalem every day. He prayed toward his spiritual home from this new place of exile. His prayer was not just a prayer of fidelity to God, it was a prayer of hope that he would be restored to that place. And it was a prayer whose hope was rooted in absolutely zero real-world evidence of resolution. Daniel knew that he was not going back to Jerusalem, at least not anytime soon, but he believed that one day, in the future far or near, he and his people would be restored.
You see, that is the thing about the Lions’ Den. It is not the proof that nothing bad will happen to believers. Something terrible has already happened, they have already been exiled and seen their world destroyed. No. It is proof that even in exile, even in failure, even in the depths of fear, God will remain faithful. God will not abandon them in their exile. Not everyone makes it out of the Lions’ Den. You and I know this. But we also know that we are never abandoned to it. Daniel was not abandoned. Scott was not abandoned. Those who suffer are not abandoned. And we know that while God’s presence today can be elusive, that one day all of this will be made well, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth and a new King who is finally worthy of worship. And until then, we open our windows to Jerusalem, and we pray, and we hope. Amen.