Daniel’s Prayer, 1865, by Sir Edward Poynter (1836-1919)
(…continued) The story of Daniel and his friends reminds us that we belong to two kingdoms. We are citizens of the United States of America, a nation of this temporary, worldly realm. We are also children of God, and thereby members of God’s spiritual kingdom, that eternal, heavenly realm. There are rights and responsibilities that come with membership in each kingdom or realm. The Bible has a few things to say about that.
First of all, the Bible tells us that government is a gift of a God. We learn in Romans 13 that government is one of the structures through which God rules the world. Therefore, says Romans 13 and I Timothy 2 and a few other places, we are commanded by God to submit to the governing authorities, serve the nation in which we live, obey its laws, and pray for its leaders.
However, the Bible also teaches that government, like everything else in this world, is corrupted by sin and will oftentimes contradict God’s commands for us. Then, says the Bible, we are to submit ourselves to the higher authority of God’s rule. This is shown most clearly in Acts 5:29 when the disciples are brought before the governing authorities and ordered to stop preaching about Jesus. Peter refused to submit to their authority, saying “We must obey God rather than men.” This New Testament teaching on our relation to the government is illustrated in the story of Daniel. Daniel submits to and serves the government of the nation in which he lives, even though he was not a natural-born citizen of that nation. But Daniel will obey the government only so far as he can do so without disobeying that greater authority.
This Biblical principal is easy to describe, but the particulars can become difficult to put into practice. This dual citizenship and sometimes conflicting loyalties have resulted in a necessary, but somewhat awkward dance between the Church and the State over the centuries. Sometimes, as in first century Jerusalem and in many countries today, the government has sought to control or even destroy the church. Sometimes, as in the Middle Ages, the church has tried to control the government.
The American experiment in separating Church and State has worked better than most of the other attempts in the past. Its intent was to protect both Church and State from each other. This freedom allows us to worship without interference, it has allowed toleration and good will to grow between differing denominations and religions, and it allows the state to benefit from the church’s moral influence. But as good as the system is, it remains an awkward dance, and the missteps and stumbling around that goes with it can be read about every day in the newspaper. On the one hand, there are those who would make the mistake of wanting the church to exert too much influence on the government. At the same time, there are those who would foolishly repudiate our religious heritage, ignoring to its great peril the benefits of its influence. The discussions and debates about how to work this out will never end, but at least in this nation we still have the freedom to have the discussion.
Daniel provides a well balanced model. He was not like the Amish, refusing to take any part in the government. Nor was he like those who agreed to be in the official State Church in Nazi Germany, willing to submit in everything to suit the demands of an evil government. Daniel served the government with diligence and excellence, but he refused to let that service come before his faith.
One more thing about Daniel. He was a smart man, a hard worker, and was wise enough to walk the fine line between Church and State. But Daniel was also a good man. In all of the Bible there are only a few major characters that are presented without mention of any faults or wrongdoings. The Bible is surprisingly frank about the failures of even its biggest stars– Moses, David, Elisha, Peter, Miriam, Sarah, Rachel, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, and Jeremiah– all of them had moments of weakness, and their sins were recorded for all to read about and learn from. But not Daniel. In every recorded instance, Daniel acts with courage, faith, and obedience. This of course does not mean he was like Jesus and without sin. It simply means that there was no wrongdoing in his life big enough to record. I cannot think of anyone else in the Bible (other than Jesus) about whom so much is written, without any record of wrongdoing. Perhaps Isaiah, perhaps Ruth, and perhaps Mary; but none of them have as much recorded about their lives as Daniel.
Daniel was a good man, and out of that goodness flowed his courage and wisdom and faithfulness.
The story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego obeying God and not man, as told in a song by Louis Armstrong in a 1951 movie:
Daniel 6:5 — 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.”
I Timothy 2:1-2 — I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers,intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.
Acts 5:29 — But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
O Lord our governor, your glory shines throughout the world. We commend our nation to your merciful care, that we may live securely in peace and may be guided by your providence. Give all in authority the wisdom and strength to know your will and to do it. Help them remember that they are called to serve the people as lovers of truth and justice; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
—Lutheran Book of Worship, 1978, Augsburg Publishing House (#172)