How Should Christians Live in a Godless Culture?
Biblical Christians are under assault. An LGBT group has announced plans to target churches if they refuse to offer property for a homosexual wedding. Christian business owners have been fined and forced out of business for "discrimination" for refusing to partake in gay weddings. The mere anticipation of government intrusion has led to the closing of a Christian preschool.
Under such circumstances, some have called for The Benedict Option, a withdrawal into separate Christian communities to preserve the faith and its culture. But the Bible's book of Daniel presents another option — a shining example of fealty to God while serving in exile, even under the very government which destroyed God's temple.
The very book of Daniel is "a call to trust in the sovereignty of Yahweh the God of Israel in the midst of historical events that seemed to deny it." Sound familiar? In his book Hearing the Message of Daniel: Sustaining Faith in Today's World, Christopher J. H. Wright applies this prophetic book to the current struggles of Christians in the post-Christian West. His is a vital book for understanding what is really going on and how Christians should respond firmly and with reliance on God.
The book of Daniel takes place in the context of exile. Daniel is a young Jewish boy forcibly removed from his home and taken into the service of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. But rather than complaining the whole time, Daniel and his three friends (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) serve the king well.
Famously, the four rejected the rich foods presented to them, in order to preserve their cultural heritage. But Wright explains that they accepted a lot more. The four said "yes" to a pagan education, "riddled with all the features of polytheism," and they even "got higher final results in their oral examinations than their Babylonian peers!" They said "yes" to a political career — even serving a country the prophets had railed against.
Finally, the four said "yes" to a change in their very names. This was no small thing: each of their original names had a connection to God (for example, Daniel means "God is judge"), and each of their new names was a reference to pagan gods. Wright emphasizes the culture shock by using his own name, which means "Christ-bearer." What if the Indians forced him to change it to Krishna, that of a Hindu god? "Even if I had been willing, it would have felt horrible."
The four Jews did not balk at any of this, and God gave them the strength to bear it. They did ask for a reprieve from the king's fine food, however — perhaps because it would have been unclean by Levitical laws or because it would have symbolized loyalty to Babylon, Wright conjectures. Even in doing so, they were gracious, and found a way to ask without endangering their boss.