…the hard way out…

“Here is the end of the matter. As for me, Daniel, my thoughts greatly alarmed me, and my color changed, but I kept the matter in my heart.” Daniel 7:28

The book of Daniel takes a hard left turn into the world of the strange and bizarre in chapter seven. The first six chapters are the stuff of Sunday School stories and Hanna Barbera specials, filled with lessons and miracles and flannel-graph heroes. But after the famous account of the lion’s den in chapter six we find ourselves wading though prophecy and vision and dreams like something out of a Quentin Tarrentino movie.

Still, among all of these strange and smokey images, we see Daniel, the guy chosen to receive these things, working not only through the attempts to understand what’s happening, but also through the personal toll that these things take on him. He says here, at the end of chapter six, that his color changed, the blood ran out of his face, and his mind was filled with scary and strange thoughts and implicitly he was an emotional wreck. This was a tough time for Daniel, and remember, this tough time was brought to him by God. God’s revelation to Daniel wasn’t a calming thing initially, but an alarming one.

Daniel’s response is simple and profound and exactly what I wanted to mention today. In a world where we do our very best to forget and avoid and prescribe away our problems and the problems of the world, this response by Daniel is foreign to us. He experiences the burden of revelation, of future destruction, of terrifying images and instead of trying to forget them he locks them in and does the hard work of dealing with them. Daniel isn’t an unemployed beggar with time on his hands, he hasn’t committed himself to a monastic life in the mountains with simple responsibilities and adequate time for thinking and meditating. He is a government official in, what may be, the most powerful nation in the world. Not only that, but he is a foreigner holding government position which means he has to work twice as hard and be twice as successful to get somewhat equal treatment. He deals with these visions and revelations and the terror of the unknown as he’s going to work everyday, struggling to keep his mind on his job, fighting through the depression that would cause him to want to stay in bed in the mornings, struggling to eat enough to stay healthy and strong, and in general trying to keep his head above water in a mental and spiritual storm like no other that he had been through.

Friends, there is an easy way out of things like this. There is a dumbed down version of life that will afford us ignorant bliss and happy days all of the time. It comes through excessive entertainment, limited engagement with the problems of the world, and a dedication to vacuum sealing our lives so as not to let any of the “bad stuff” in. The problem with that method is that it isolates us not only from the world but from God. God loves the world. He said that. God loves people. God doesn’t extract Himself from problems, in fact, He Himself stepped into the problem in a profoundly physical way on the first Christmas evening. And so, by God’s own example, the hard way out is the only way that makes any sense sometimes.

Sometimes we have to carry and wrestle with and drag around burdens that we don’t understand. Sometimes we have to endure stress and sadness and sorrow that we don’t want to endure. Sometimes we have to cling to the very sanity that we think we still have because the weight of the world is much. And even though all of these things sound like issues that Jesus took care of at the cross, these are actually the things that we experience after the cross. It is only when we have realized our own weakness and need that we can adequately step in and care for someone else in their weakness and need. It is only after we have caught a glimpse of our own sinful nature and tendencies that we can properly weep and mourn and intercede for a world that is bent on emotional and spiritual suicide because of it’s sin.

The way we are to approach life is not always the easy way. In fact, it was Jesus who told us that following Him looks like taking up a cross, not laying down a burden. While there is absolutely a burden that we lay down at the cross, namely the weight of our eternal destiny, there is a burden of compassion and love and forgiveness and grace that we pick up. And it should be said that in sharing these burdens with Jesus we get to work side by side with him, in the New Testament we are called “co-laborers with Christ.” So before this gets too sad, we must understand that it is in carrying these burdens that we find joy (not necessarily happiness, but always joy).

Daniel kept these difficult things in his heart, not pushing them aside for a second helping of dessert. Will we? We live in world of great struggle and question, and we have been called by God to do the hard work of stepping into hard and dark places to bring the light, warmth, and love of His Son to the people that are trapped there. Don’t avoid tough questions. Don’t push aside difficult truths. Don’t walk around the inconvenience of the man on the side of the road, beaten and robbed and left for dead. Today, I challenge you, along with myself, to take the hard way out.

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