Tuesday: Psalms 120-122; Daniel 6:1-18; Hebrews 7:1-10

From: Charles Glenn

Psalms 121 and 122 are two of the most splendid passages in all of scripture, and have no need of my commentary; read them, pray them, memorize them.

But Daniel in the lions’ den should be rescued from the Bible storybooks for children, since it is strongly relevant to our present situation as Christians in the United States.

The story is familiar enough. “Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so…because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, “We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.”

They persuaded the king to order that, for thirty days, all prayers should be directed exclusively to the king himself. Despite this, Daniel continued to pray toward faraway Jerusalem (see Psalm 122!), “giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” His enemies accused him of disrespect toward the unique sovereignty of the king, who ordered him thrown into a den of lions, saying to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!”

We are told that “at the first light of dawn, the king got up and hurried to the lions’ den. When he came near the den, he called to Daniel in an anguished voice, ‘Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to rescue you from the lions?’ Daniel answered, ‘May the king live forever! My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight. Nor have I ever done any wrong before you, Your Majesty.’”

A fundamental principle of religious freedom, in this country, as James Madison famously wrote in 1785, is that “it is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage…as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.  …if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must any man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign.”

Society and its government have legitimate claims on us, and it is clear that Daniel, as a civil servant and as the king’s subject, was exemplary in responding to those claims. His obedience to the king could not, however, place a limit on his obedience to God.

There is a tendency, today, to refer to “religious preferences,” as though these were a form of choice that should yield, when challenged, to more pressing claims. For committed believers who have recognized God as the Lord of their hearts and lives, however, faith “goes all the way down.” As Robert George of Princeton has written recently, such religious belief is an “irreducible aspect of human self-being and fulfillment – a basic human good.”  

Religious liberty is under attack in our country as never before, and convinced Christians – as well as others for whom religious belief is fundamental – need to be on their guard. The leading legal authority on religious freedom, Douglas Laycock of the University of Virginia, warns that we are in a situation in which religious belief is perceived as a preference undeserving of protection when it results in public conduct that anyone finds objectionable.  

We should not be like the priests who told Pilate, “we have no king but Caesar!” (John 19.15), but neither should we be like those Salafists who consider the notion of the sovereignty of the people in a Republic as an idol to be overthrown, since sovereignty is Allah’s alone. Jesus taught us how to strike the balance of our obligations and loyalties: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s” (Matthew 22.21). 

As Christians, we should like Daniel be loyal citizens and contribute with all our ability to society, whatever the sphere of our activity. Like Daniel, we should seek to be in a friendly relationship with those in authority. Like Daniel, though, our ultimate loyalty and obedience, our deepest love, must be to the Sovereign God; for us, the State can never be the ultimate sovereign. Nor can social pressure nor public opinion. And sometimes, like Daniel, we must take a stand for God, whatever the consequences.

My current work is mostly around religious freedom, especially in education, in this and other countries. Glad to talk with anyone who wants to know more about that fraught issue.