So small. So fragile. So tangible. Scraps of paper connecting people across millenia.
Here is a fragment from the second chapter of Daniel in the Hebrew scriptures.“Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might.
He changes times and seasons;
he removes kings and sets up kings;
he gives wisdom to the wise
and knowledge to those who have understanding;
he reveals deep and hidden things;
he knows what is in the darkness,
and the light dwells with him.
To you, O God of my fathers,
I give thanks and praise,
for you have given me wisdom and might,
and have now made known to me what we asked of you,
for you have made known to us the king’s matter.”
Two months ago I was leading a discussion on this section of Daniel. In particular, I was drawn to how Daniel practices what Ignatius may term indifference – his focus solely on God and not the created things and circumstances around him. In this poetic interruption of narrative, God is vividly shown to be the center of everything in the world and Daniel’s life.
Standing before the earliest known copy of this prayer at the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center, the emphasis on God was before me again. This time it was on a torn, faded bit of parchment – the writing of a scribe 100+ years before Christ. On this fragment was the praise of God preserved and continued to be used as a prayer to this day.
It was part a display that sets the scrolls within the history, the culture, the world in which they were written. The display itself emphasizes the importance of these fragments. The cases holding the fragments are arranged in a large, circular table in the center of the room. Other cases containing pottery, mosaics, and tools from the same era and region, surround the main exhibit. No one can get too close to the actual scrolls. Under glass, shielded with dim lights so the decaying process is minimized, these 2000 year old fragments are well-protected.
Yet, the importance of these fragments rests not in their fragility and age, nor in the scholars working on them, but in the wisdom, comfort, and truth contained in God’s Word on which people have leaned over centuries and throughout the world. As the prayer from Daniel attests – all these circumstances and created items surrounding the scrolls are nothing compared to the God to which they point.
Furthermore, the words on these scrolls live yet today – not on fragments of paper – but within people as God’s ultimate Word, Jesus Christ, lives through them.