(Excerpted from Story of God Bible Commentary, Daniel, pp 58-59)
The message of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream that God is the one true king is as relevant in the twenty-first century as it was when Nebuchadnezzar caught a glimpse of the ages to come. World rulers and their empires are in God’s hands, and he directs the course of human history. This means that despair and fear over the tenuous economy in the Euro Zone, the powder keg of Middle Eastern politics, or the U.S.’s dance into debauchery need not overcome us. It means fear about the threats of climate change or intensifying natural disasters need not leave us in despair.
During the summer of 2012, I escaped the barrage of presidential campaign rhetoric by spending two steamy weeks in Myanmar teaching a handful of pastors the book of Daniel. I may have been the credentialed expert, but they had expertise I’m not likely to ever acquire. In spite of the difficulties associated with living under a military government, these men and women radiated confidence in God’s sovereignty over their country. Their gentle and good-humored spirits were a refreshing contrast to what was happening halfway around the globe in “the capital of the free world,” where Americans left and right sneered and jeered at each other. After the election months later, my Facebook news feed erupted in a predictable clash of responses: Obama is the antichrist! Obama is the messiah!
Such despair and such hope are both disproportionate reactions to the rise (or demise) of a human leader. If God is on the throne, our despair and disappointment belong at his feet. If he alone is sovereign, our hope and expectations for anything good in the world belong in him. No political leader or system will thwart his plan or bring in his kingdom. If we think a human leader represents kingdom values well, then we should rejoice and pray hard that through him or her, God will execute justice and righteousness. If we think a human leader’s values run amok of God’s kingdom, then we should still pray hard that God will execute justice and righteousness and take comfort that he is the one on the throne.
While some of us place too much hope in the political process, others of us risk being too comfortable in God’s sovereign control. Since God’s in charge, we think we can sit back and wait to be swept up in the clouds to meet the returning Jesus in the air. If human kingdoms are doomed to become dust in the wind, why waste the energy trying to change things? Such Christian complacency is an excuse for lazy sin. Those of us who are privileged to live in places where our voices and our votes can make a positive difference in the lives of our “neighbors” are accountable for what we do with such privileges. We demonstrate that we love God by lovingly acting in the best interest of our neighbors.
By the grace of his God, Daniel avoided the dangers of despair, complacency, and misplaced hope. During his long tenure in Babylonian politics, he witnessed political power limited by human wisdom and wantonness, human frailty and finitude. But his confidence was never in human kings; it was in the sovereign and eternal king who always transcends the political process. In later chapters of the book, Daniel will be deeply troubled by his visions of the future, but he will respond with prayer and fasting—not despair, mud-slinging, or, ironically, apocalyptic naysaying.