Blogging Towards Sunday, May 12, 2013
Do we believe, or are we faithful, because God has delivered us? Are we delivered if we truly believe that God is faithful? Or are we faithful in believing that God can deliver us from the trouble, oppression and persecution we may face? This conundrum about theodicy is challenging: does God save only the true believer? Is faith a condition for salvation, some sort of a sick quid-pro-quo? How is it that God doesn’t deliver all the faithful? Were they liars? Or is God not powerful enough? Or is something else going on? We wonder all these questions when we pray for divine deliverance, and yet don’t seem to receive it. Are faith and faithfulness things that we choose, or that choose us? Why are some of us strong, certain in our faith, while others aren’t? Why are we certain at some times in life and not others?
- This is the only part of the book of Daniel which doesn’t include Daniel as a character in the text. Why is that? Does it matter?
- The beginning of the text is shocking. Nebuchadnezzar seems to not have understood what just happened with his dream and Daniel (chapter 2). Or has he heard only what he wanted to hear?
- Notice the repetition in the text. For example look at the times the royal monument is described as made of gold (v. 1, 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 18) and set up (v. 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 12, 14, 18). How does that contrast with the preceding text in which only the head of the statue in the dream is made of gold, and King Nebuchadnezzar finishes by kneeling down before Daniel (2:45).
- What is not repeated, or said only once in the text?
- The Chaldeans are against the Jews, not just these three men. Is this racism? Xenophobia? Is this about ethnicity or racial hatred? Or jealousy by the Chaldean diviners of these Jewish men who seem so wise?
- The response of the three heroes is curious. They courageously refuse to respond to the challenge and taunts of the king. They address him with the honorific title of “King” in v 16. They don’t feel compelled to defend their God.
- The heroes refocus the question: the king is intent on changing them, “if you…” v. 15. But the faithful servants change the conversation to “if our God…” v. 17. For the king worshipping his gods and him is respecting his royal authority. For these three servants, worshipping God and recognizing the authority of the governor are not indistinguishable and to be confused.
- In the text only the king sees the 4th person who is described as a deity, or divine presence. Who do you think it is? What does that presence mean theologically?
- The dream is chapter 2 tells of Nebuchadnezzar’s downfall. How does he fall in this story?
- Throughout the book of Daniel the writer emphasizes the sovereignty of God. How is the God of Daniel different than the gods of the Chaldean diviners and the King?
- This chapter wrestles with the theme of authority. What is true spiritual authority? Who can give and take it away? Why? How are we called to civil disobedience against false authorities who put themselves up in the place only God has?
- Courage and perseverance and personified in this text. Faithfulness is a response to grace already experienced. Divine deliverance can never be a condition for faithful conduct. What does it mean to be faithful? What does it mean to not compromise our faith? Where do we draw the line? Catholic Justice Worker Dorothy Day wrote, “Love casts our fear.” How do you react to that in this text? In the life you’ve lived?
- What does it mean to be alive, to live for God? Why are Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego willing to die in order to remain alive?
- Reread the text we’re using as the Call to Worship: Psalm 145. How do these two texts interact and affirm aspects of God’s presence, purpose and person?
Questions for wondering and exploring:
- What strikes you in this text? What gives you hope or encouragement? Why?
- What do you find challenging about being faithful in life to your faith when challenged or when you’re in the minority? How is it easy/challenging to “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect”? (Romans 12:2)
- Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abendego never receive a call like the other prophets. They are simply given a wide wisdom, and then they must choose how to respond to the challenges that they face. How do their choices define them and their identity? How do our choices shape our identity as disciples of Jesus?
- How have you experienced the divine presence with you in the fiery furnaces of your life? How has that experience, or that belief, refocused the way you look at life, other people, faith, your identity?
As I reflect on the text I’m struck by the way in the story is framed and reframed, focused first on the king and his power and then refocused upon the power of the living God. I was struck this week by the video of a commencement speech made by David Foster Wallace, entitled “This is Water”. What role do our choices play in how we live our life, the focus of our lives, and how we reframe what we live?