Peace in a beastly world

When we started to talk about peace, we set the problem in the context of messy life in a messy world. We talked about pain, trouble, uncertainty and chaos. One of our talks in the series will be all about global peace. The question is “Will wars ever cease.”

We live in a world experiencing significant upheaval, war in Iraq and Syria has caused a great movement of refugees across Europe. Terror is never far away. It isn’t long ago that we turned on the news to hear about shootings in Paris.

How do we find peace in this type of World? The question of war and peace isn’t theoretical.  Many of those displaced people are here in our communities. Our local hospital has treated some of the most severely wounded from recent military campaigns.

In the New Year, Bearwood Chapel will be looking at the book of Revelation. One of the things we’ll see as we look at that book is how it gives us a big picture of God’s Sovereign plan being fulfilled despite the chaos and mess of a world where evil seems to be winning.

Another book written in that type of context and speaking to people with those types of fears was the book of Daniel. Daniel had been taken as a captive from his homeland in Judea to Babylon as a young man. He spent his whole life in exile. The end of the Babylonian exile didn’t result in Daniel going home but in further exile under the Persians.

Just towards the end of the Babylonian dynasty under Belshazzar’s reign, Daniel had a dream. You can read about it in Daniel 6. In his dream, four fearsome beasts take turns to terrorise the people.  In the middle of his dream, he captures a sight of “The Ancient of Days” (God) and one looking like “a son of man” who receives authority from The Ancient of Days to rule over the nations and to have an eternal kingdom. The vision is interpreted. The Beasts represent great kingdoms or empires. They will rise and fall. The “Son of Man” is the one who will finally defeat them, liberating and protecting God’s people, bringing them freedom and vindicating them.

Daniel’s response is awe and fear. Why fear? We will come back to that in a second.

Now which kingdoms each of the beasts represent is not stated and Biblical Scholars and preachers have disagreed over this. Some think that it is. The most natural view is that it is either Babylon followed by Medo-Persia then Greece and finally Rome[1] or possibly Babylon followed by the Medes and the Persians (treated separately) then Greece[2].  Sometimes, people have seen (at least) the last kingdom as representing the end times and a final power in the future. Indeed often people have tried to identify this with their own age and the particular evil they face.

My take is

  1. That the dream would have been immediately relevant and said something to God’s people at the time of the vision. So, the right starting point is the history of Daniel’s day and what followed. Historically all of this seems best to align with the Empires through to Rome. Christ arrives under Roman rule -the time was right.
  2. That God’s Word is relevant to every age and stage. So we can learn things about our day and age by way of analogy. It is true that at any point in history, people find themselves confronted with powers that seem invincible and even worse than anything that has come before.

But I want to come to something specific. Why is Daniel’s response fear? We talked about this at our home group recently. Here were some of the suggestions that came through. Have a look and see if you agree with any of them and to what extent.

–          The beasts themselves were frightening. Even when we know that God is sovereign, it does not always mean that this makes our circumstances easier to bear or less frightening.

–          There’s the sense that Daniel is a long way from the happy ending to the story. The Fall of Babylon does not immediately bring liberty to God people. Indeed, even return to the land will not accomplish this. There’s a long road ahead. I wonder if there was something similar for John and the first readers of Revelation. The sense that they were in for the long haul. Christ’s return was and is imminent but imminent did not mean immediate.

–          Then there is Daniel himself. To what extent is the vision of rescue and vindication good news for him. He isn’t one of the remnant in Jerusalem. Maybe he might have even felt that compromised by his position in Babylonian government. That might even have been a taunt that he faced.

–          Finally, and probably the key point.  Fear is the right response to the awesome majesty of God in the vision. Even in the context of seeing that this God is the good God who will defeat his enemies and the enemies of his people. There’s that sense there that it isn’t about god being on their side. God is against evil and the question is whether the people are on his side. Daniel also lacks the advantage of seeing exactly what God’s salvation plan would mean in all its wonderful beauty.

Now, this opened up some wonderful conversation among the group and deep, honest reflection. These are the sorts of things we can fear today.

–          We can be genuinely fearful in a hostile world. War, terror, economic and political uncertainty, the rule of tyrants and bullies are all distressing things that bring great pain and suffering. Sometimes this also is about our experience of tyrants, bullies, human empires at a more local level in the workplace, the schoolyard, on our own streets even within families.

–          We still don’t know when Jesus will come back.  The question “How long oh Lord” and the plea “Come quickly Lord Jesus” are as real today as for ever. It may be soon or we may still be in for the long haul. This can be true in the immediate, persona context too. What if the present storm isn’t ending any time soon? What if when the present storm does end, it will be followed by another one?

–          There’s the challenge isn’t there. When Jesus does return what will my account be like? Have I been faithful? My Gospel efforts seem so weak and feeble. I know my own failings

–          There is and should be a right sense of awe and fear before the Lord

That right and healthy fear or reverence of God should work to drive out all wrong and misplaced fear. I fear him so that I don’t have to fear anything else. I put myself into his hands and care knowing that he will hold me fast.

It is good even to recognise my own weaknesses and failings but that should push me harder and firmer not onto increased legalism but onto grace and a greater dependence on the Gospel.

What enables me to stand firm in a world lacking in peace is that I have the hope of Resurrection. One day I will be with the Lord and will see him as he is. Then I will be like him.

[1] See Dale Ralph Davies, The Message of Daniel (BST), 95.

[2] See John Goldingay, Daniel (WBC), 175-176.