King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon raided Jerusalem three times, under three successive kings, resulting in three waves of deportations (cf. 2 Chronicles 36:9-20). The people of Judah, newly captive, were faced with a choice: They could assimilate with the foreign culture, leaving behind their identity as the people of Yahweh. Or they could do their best to isolate themselves from their surroundings.
Daniel found a way out of that dilemma. As we study his actions together this week, let us reflect on what they might mean for us today, during this COVID-19 pandemic, and beyond, when our lives begin anew.
THINK ABOUT IT
Throughout space and time, Christians have given a range of different answers to the questions of what they would accept, adapt, and stay constant in their context. H.
Richard Niebuhr’s Christ and Culture (1951) presents five such approaches:
a. Christ Against Culture
Whatever may be the customs of the society in which the Christian lives, and whatever the human achievement it conserves, Christ is seen as opposed to them, so that he confronts men with the challenge of an ‘either-or’ decision.
b. The Christ of Culture
In them Jesus often appears as a great hero of human culture history; his life and teachings are regarded as the greatest human achievement; in him, it is believed, the aspirations of men toward their values are brought to a point of culmination; he confirms what is best in the past, and guides the process of civilisation to its proper goal.
c. Christ Above Culture
He is the fulfilment of cultural aspirations and the restorer of the institutions of true society. But Christ enters into life from above with gifts which human aspiration has not envisioned and which human effort cannot attain unless he relates men to a supernatural society and a new value-centre.
d. Christ and Culture in Paradox
Christians throughout life are subject to the tension that accompanies obedience to two authorities who do not agree yet must both be obeyed. Hence man is seen as subject to two moralities, and as a citizen of two worlds that are not only discontinuous with each other but largely opposed. In the polarity and tension of Christ and culture life must be lived precariously and sinfully in the hope of a justification which lies beyond history.
e. Christ the Transformer of Culture
Christ is seen as the converter of man in his culture and society, not apart from these, for there is no nature without culture and no turning of men from self and idols to God save in society.
Niebuhr gives no final resolution as to which option is preferred, urging instead for individuals to humbly decide for themselves, in the midst of the faithful, with the fragments of faith that they have. Therefore, may we choose to keep the discussion we have today open, working out our faith together without ceasing, supporting each other’s decisions in prayer.
WHAT WOULD YOU DO
Threatened with death, Daniel and his three friends stood by their convictions and refused to adopt a pagan lifestyle. Their worldview had God at the centre and they lived it out even under extreme pressure to change. May we take courage by their stories when we too are put in a dilemma, that we will stay constant and walk faithfully as Christ followers.
“But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” – Daniel 1:8