Daniel’s Prayer and Ours
Background Scripture: Daniel 9:3-19.
Devotional Reading: James 5:13-18.
Our passage for this week is neither a story, a prophecy nor a vision. It is Daniel’s prayer for his nation and an invitation for us to pray in a like manner. It is a prayer of confession, similar to the ones in Ezra 9 and 1 Kings 8.
He has been wrestling with Jeremiah’s prophecy that Israel’s exile in Babylonian captivity would last 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11,12 and 29:10).
He does not question the 70 years of exile, but, like Jeremiah, he turns to the Lord with a prayer of confession sharing the guilt of his people: “We have sinned and done wrong, acting wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name of our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.”
Daniel says that guilt falls not just upon a select few, but the whole people of Israel: “Open shame ... falls on us the people of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are near and those who are far away ... because of the treachery that they have committed against you” (9:7,8).
We may be aware that we sometimes need to seek the Lord’s mercy for ourselves but rarely realize that we are also responsible for sins committed by our nation, our party, our race.
Responsibility for sins in our society falls upon “us” as well as upon “them.” We share guilt if, instead of trying to help correct those sins, we stand aside and wait for someone else to heal the wrong.
Killing and Dreaming
Reinhold Niebuhr observed that “man is the kind of lion who both kills the lamb and also dreams of the day when the lion and the lamb shall lie down together.”
We may dream of a better world, but not necessarily become involved in turning that dream to reality.
Daniel did not excuse any of his people of responsibility to the Lord. Neither should we.
Last week I got a call from a man (“Van”) who, as a prisoner in the Texas prison system had received copies of my “The Bible Speaks” columns. I lost contact with him in the early spring when he was paroled after 28 years for shooting a policeman. In prison, “Van” turned to the Lord.
Since his release, he is involved as a servant of Christ in working with other prisoners, people in institutions, hospitals, etc. But the truly inspiring thing he revealed to me was that, when he was paroled, it was the policeman whom he had shot that came to the prison to take him home.
I told “Van” I was thankful that he called me, but he responded, “Actually, I was trying to call my sister, but I picked your number by mistake. But, I don’t believe it was a mistake. The Lord doesn’t make mistakes.”
So now, because “Van” has found his way in Christ, he is no longer part of the problem, but of the solution. If “Van” had come to Dallas after parole he, as a convicted felon, would be barred from employment and from renting a room or apartment, and regarded as a problem rather than an opportunity.
The same is true in virtually every community because we think it’s someone else’s responsibility, even communities with healthy Christian congregations. Some Christians think confession is good for the soul — other peoples’ confessions, other peoples’ souls.
Delegating Our Vices
Once again, quoting Niebuhr: “There is an increasing tendency among modern men to imagine themselves ethical because they have delegated their vices to larger and larger groups.”
Also, refusing to join in corporate responsibility for sin and sins, we never get rid of our corporate guilt and therefore are unable to receive forgiveness and pass on. If we acknowledge our sin and seek forgiveness, we can pass on to higher ground.
After World War II, many of us wondered how the German Christians could have been so oblivious to the crimes of their nation. Many of them felt no guilt because they had not actively participated in the immoral acts. But few nations ever admit their collective guilt for crimes, atrocities and illegal acts.
Daniel wrote: “We did not entreat the favor of the Lord our God, turning from our iniquities and reflecting on his fidelity. So the Lord kept watch over this calamity until he brought it upon us. Indeed the Lord our God is right in all that he has done; for we have disobeyed his voice.”
God help the nation and its people who believe that these words were written for others only.