What Would Daniel Do?


I see things on Facebook and other places that put out ideas that are perhaps true, but not really helpful. I have been bothered by the WAR metaphor for the church or for Christian’s role in culture. The war metaphor is not completely incorrect… but it has limitations. It’s greatest weakness, perhaps, is that it tends to demonize and “dualize” the world. In real situations we have to address problems with greater wisdom and nuance.

Some see Christian ethics deontologically (black and white, rules based). The Bible doesn’t really support this, even if the church often has supported it. Ethics in the Bible tend to be more subtle, concerned about the results of one’s actions, one’s contextual appropriateness, and the guidance of the Spirit of God. Dealing with Christian ethics in terms of:

  • Right and Wrong (Deontological)
  • Fit or Unfit (Contextual)
  • Good and Evil (Teleological)
  • Wise and Unwise (Divine Leading and Reason)

is difficult to put into balance. Therefore some just give up and try to force everything into a dualistic framework (completely good or completely bad). But the book of Daniel provides some subtlety in response to interacting with a different culture and religion.

Case 1. Eat or Die. In Chapter 1, Daniel and his three friends are required to eat foods in their new culture that are against their own religious cleanliness rules. In a dualistic mindset, the choices were EAT   or   NOT EAT. In fact, they chose neither option.

What they did was come up with a negotiated agreement with the steward. Give us a trial period of 10 days to do things our way and then at the end, we will have an evaluation. It doesn’t say what Daniel and his friends would do if the evaluation went against them. But that is hardly relevant. They came up with a negotiated plan to allow them to prove themselves and an alternate solution to be used within the system they were given.

Case 2. Lie or die. In Chapter 2, the King had a question for his counselors… a question that they did not have an answer for, and one they could not even come up with a believable deception regarding. In this case, since Daniel did not have the answer, he could lie or die (or perhaps run away).

What he did was tell the king that he would answer the question if he was given some time.

Case 3. Bow or die. In Chapter 3, Daniel’s friends are faced with the situation of having to bow down to a large golden image in an act of apparent worship or die. The choice seems rather simple… not a lot of options..

In this case, the friends chose death. God saved them, but they made a direct clear choice, unlike in the first two cases. One might, of course, wonder where Daniel was. Of course, the story itself does not tell us and perhaps because that was not relevant. Perhaps he was given an “out”— given a task to not have to make such a tough choice.

Case 4.   Not Pray or die.  In Chapter 6. A decree was made that no prayers may be made except to the king.

In this case, Daniel kept doing his prayers as normal, risking death..

Let consider the cases:

1.  In none of these cases does Daniel (or his friends) give the the authorities exactly what they want/demand. This is pretty reasonable and worth noting— submission to human authority is always limited. One who follows God unconditionally, follows men conditionally.

2.  Two of these cases Daniel and friends worked for a WIN-WIN rather than a WIN-LOSE situation. In case 1, the king wanted healthy servants, and they helped the king achieve it… but with an alternate methodology. In case 2, the king wanted to know the dream and have its interpretation, and they worked, through negotiation, to give it to him.

3.  In the cases where there was no negotiation involved, resistance was done in the form of non-violent civil disobedience. (satyagraha)

4.  Despite these four cases in the book of Daniel, it is clear that Daniel and his friends typically had a non-adversarial relationship with the pagan culture and governance. The fact that they were respected in their governmental roles even had some friendly relations with the leaders suggests this. Additionally, in other cases in the book, Daniel was helpful, respectful, and supportive in his role in the culture.

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