FROM THE ACCOUNT OF DANIEL in the lions’ den (Dan. 6), we observe a man about eighty years of age as faithful at the end of his life as he was at the beginning. Some notes:
(1) Despite his advanced years, Daniel’s administrative abilities and his passion for integrity make him highly valuable to a relatively enlightened ruler such as Darius. The same virtues make him a target of envy to lesser men, who are happy to engage in a dirty-tricks campaign to bring him down. Dirty tricks were not invented by Nixon; they stretch back to the Fall. Blessed is the Christian whose life is so transparent, who is “trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (Dan. 6:4), so that the only way he or she can be destroyed is by making Christian conduct and conviction a crime.
(2) Daniel serves as a model of how a Christian may serve in a government that is itself in no way Christian. He offers no comfort to those who withdraw not only from sin but from responsibility and godly influence.
(3) The expression “laws of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be repealed” (Dan. 6:8) was probably a badge of honor in the empire. Probably the policy was designed to discourage favoritism, corrupt exceptions, shifting pragmatism. But no legal system can ensure consistent justice. Corrupt people will always find ways of exploiting the system to oppress others and advance themselves. Hidden behind the slogan is a deeper issue. Historically there has long been a tension between positive law theory, in which the only law to be obeyed is that enacted by government, and natural law theory, in which some fundamentals are thought to be discoverable by human beings. In the name of equity and justice, British courts, until fairly recently, would sometimes set aside positive law in favor of natural law where it was pretty obvious an injustice was otherwise being committed. Both in Britain and in the United States, such considerations are now rare. In Britain, what must be obeyed is what Parliament says; in the United States, what must be obeyed is what the Supreme Court says. In both instances, positive law largely prevails, as in ancient Persia. The matter has become increasingly difficult here since Western states have come to think they have a therapeutic role in society, defining the “illnesses” that must be confronted and the “therapies” that must be imposed as they go along. The potential for injustice and inequity multiplies.
(4) In the crisis precipitated by this unjust law, Daniel remains consistent, neither flaunting his independence nor hiding his convictions and habits. The outcome he leaves with God—very much as in Jesus’ prayer (“Your will be done”) and example (Matt. 6:10; 26:39). Such maturity may well become a cherished model for us.