The ultimate story is that of a return home – The Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, The Lord of the Rings. Protagonists in these stories often leave home in order to protect it and to live out the purpose of their lives. Even as they meet the challenges along the way, they continue to desire home, and it is this desire that keeps them going.
But how do you live life in a new place when it is one of exile? When the journey and trials before you are not bringing you closer to home? When it’s likely you will never walk the road home again? It’s tempting to give up. To despair of ever returning.
It’s in this place of exile where we meet Daniel in the Hebrew scriptures who has been taken to the court in Babylon as a prize of King Nebuchadnezzar. However, there is something a bit strange about this man. In his narrative we don’t see him pining for Israel or fighting against his captors. There is an odd restfulness about his actions in this strange land. One could say that this is an attitude of detachment or indifference.
Ignatius of Loyola speaks of such indifference in his Spiritual Exercises:
It is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than sort life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.
So much of our lives in the twenty-first century is built on creating an identity and tying ourselves to it. If I’m not a graduate who am I? If I don’t have children? If I’m not a member of this church? If my team loses? We grasp our desires, our identity, our home and hold on at all costs. We are restless. But as Ignatius tells us and Daniel shows us, there is another way. Indifference in this view is not apathy or unconcern, but a detachment from things in this world that would keep us from following God first and foremost.
Chapter two of this book takes place a year or two after the narrative leaves Daniel and his three friends in Babylon, having gained recognition in the court of their captors as being wise and God-fearing young men. They excelled in their education and found a place in this foreign land even while keeping true to their God. At this point we enter further into this court tale. This story is similar to that of Joseph who was also an exile and rose within the Egyptian. Yet, there are twists in these biblical stories that make them unique.
The king’s court is now a place of rising tension. In this place of earthly power, King Nebuchadnezzar can not sleep because of a troubling dream. He calls the wise men in his court to reveal and interpret it. Three times he asks, and three times they declare the impossibility – only the gods could do such a thing and they don’t dwell with humans. If the king would reveal the dream first, then they would be able to interpret it. Nonetheless, Nebuchadnezzar is determined to hold onto his identity as absolute ruler and the wise men insist that this request is impossible. At this impasse, anger overtakes the king and he orders all the wise men killed. There is no path out.
In contrast, when Daniel hears the sentence, he doesn’t just accept it, wonder how the king could be so irrational, or even ask why God brought him here only to die. He merely asks why the king is so hasty in his decree and then states that he will reveal the dream if given time. What comes next is not a frantic attempt to shore up his identity as a wise man and solve this enigma on his own. No, he returns to his friends, shares with them this dilemma, and asks them to join him in praying for God’s mercies. He turns not to his ability. He turns, with his friends, to God.
What an amazing response. In this era of extreme angst about politics, economics, and so much more, what would it be like to have more Daniel’s around us? To be a Daniel? Remembering that we are in exile as we live in the now and not yet reality of God’s Kingdom. Having faith in God alone.