Breaking News From Babylon…

I am a recovering news junkie.

If you’ve followed me for any amount of time, you know my background is in the world of journalism. After obtaining a master’s degree in journalism from Indiana University, I worked for a short amount of time in both print and radio news before turning my attention to fiction writing.

So it should come as no surprise that, even though I may have *professionally* left the journalism game, I never quite left it *personally*. I’ve always had a hunger for knowledge; even as a child, I would consume the morning paper when it arrived in the morning (what ten year-old does that?) As I grew older and media changed, I not only read the paper, but also religiously checked several news websites multiple times a day (journalism bias is real, folks, and balance is key) as well as listening to radio broadcasts and occasionally watching TV. Even after deciding journalism wasn’t the right fit for me as a job, I was still an avid consumer of news.

And that’s putting it lightly.

It would take something major to change something so fundamentally ingrained in my brain.

It would take, say….a global pandemic?

For the first months of COVID, I–like most people–was glued to my computer, devouring every single thing I could find about this new virus. But as days turned to weeks and weeks to months and months to years, the news just kept getting uglier. And more divisive. And depressing.

I found myself angry and disheartened. All. The. Time. Definitely not grasping the “life of abundance” Christ had promised. Everything just seemed so out of control. We were doomed. All of us. The world was burning and we were the ones lighting the matches.

Drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. Without the drinking or being merry part.

In short, I found myself losing hope.

And, as usual with me and my stubborn, forgetful self, it took a serious reality check from Scripture to pull me from my spiral.

In the Book of Daniel, we find the titular character as well as hundreds of thousands of other Israelites living in exile under Babylonian rule. Daniel’s gift of interpretation has given him a place of status and honor within the court. Even though he’s been provided a relatively cush life compared to other Jews in the regime, Daniel still does not compromise his faith, nor does his faith seem to have serious effects on the pagan culture around him. Various kings, while at times recognizing Daniel’s God, still maintain a lifestyle of excess, debauchery, and sin.

During this time, Daniel receives several visions about what is to come. For example, in chapter 8, Daniel sees himself in the citadel of Susa where “before me was a ram with two horns…one of the horns was longer than the other but grew up later. I watched the ram as he charged toward the west and the north and the south. No animal could stand against him…suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between his eyes came from the west…I saw him attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering his two horns…the goat became very great, but at the height of his power, his large horn was broken off…” (Daniel 8: 3-8)

Weird and confusing, yes, but God, in His gracious abundance, also provided Daniel an interpretation of this dream, among others. Feel free to read further for more details, suffice it to say, Daniel knew from these visions the Babylonian Empire would eventually collapse, as would the Medo-Persian Empire after it, the empire after that. He was able to discern that God was still in control, even over these pagan kingdoms, and a deliverance would eventually come to the Israelites.

We, as Christians, have this same reassurance, thousands of years after the collapse of these ancient empires. We may not have visions like Daniel, but we have God’s Word, which promises us ultimate victory over the wars raging across our planet right now, be they social, economic, political, or pandemic.

When this body that decays is changed into a body that cannot decay, and this mortal body is changed into a body that will live forever, then the teaching of Scripture will come true:
‘Death is turned into victory!
Death, where is your victory?
Death, where is your sting?’
Sin gives death its sting, and God’s standards give sin its power. Thank God that he gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 15:54-57

We have ultimate victory, no matter what the present circumstances–or the nightly news–tries to tell us. We have hope. We have a future. We have Jesus.

But I get it. All of this is fine and dandy, this promise of things to come. It keeps me from falling completely into the pit of despair. But…what about now? What about these horrible things we keep seeing on the news? What about the pain and fear and heartbreak we have to live with right here right now? As grateful as I am for the hope Jesus has given us for the future, it doesn’t change the fact that things are super hard and depressing now.

Daniel had an answer for that, too.

Although blessed with the gift of vision and interpretation, Daniel was not immune to the feelings those dreams stirred within him. In chapter 10, we see him mourning after one particular instance, eating no meat, drinking no wine, and partaking in no creature comforts. He admits that he is afraid and “overcome with anguish” (10:16) because of the knowledge of things to come on this earth—even with the understanding that God is sovereign over all matters and holds ultimate deliverance in His hands. Even with his strong faith, Daniel felt grief over his circumstances (and the circumstances yet to come). His feelings were a natural, human response to calamities and suffering.

But what’s more important than his feelings is the way he acted despite them.

From his visions, Daniel understood the Babylonian kingdom would come to an end; he also understood that great suffering would come both before and after this event. Knowing the limited span of a human life, he was even further aware that he might not live to see the rescue of his people. Deliverance, at least for Daniel’s earthly body, may not ever come. He had every right to fall into melancholy.

Instead, Daniel became even bolder in his faith. In chapter 5, when summoned before King Belshazzar to interpret a vision, he does not grovel or kowtow to a ruler who had no respect for God (see verses 5: 2-4). In fact, even though he performs the duty required of him by the king, he doesn’t shy away from being downright snarky (verse 5:17). He’s not afraid to tell the truth, calling Belshazzar out for his wickedness and pride, even though every thread of logic would have told him to soften the blow of the meaning of the vision. He stands firm in God’s sovereignty and judgement.

He understood hard times were coming. Understood further the glory of things to come–things to which he would not be witness. And yet rather than be filled with dejection over his role and assigned time in history, he went forth in bold faith, not shying away from Truth. Daniel “did not receive the things promised; [he] only saw them from a distance” (Hebrews 11: 13) And yet rather than turn or give in to sorrow, he pressed forward, choosing to continue living his life for the advancement of God’s kingdom.

We have that same choice. We may not know exactly what the future holds here on this earth, but we are almost guaranteed hardship. Wickedness. Pain. That’s just the nature of our fallen world as it moves toward corruption. Our earthly forms may not see the deliverance God, in His Son, has promised to bring. We may not be here in these bodies when Christ rises again to defeat the prince of darkness once and for all. We may have to live our entire lives in the “birthing pangs” of existence.

But rather than depression, we–like Daniel–can choose boldness. We can choose faith. We can choose to live our lives for what is unseen rather than seen. In short, we can choose Jesus.

Our belief in Him may not change our present circumstances…but it will change our eternity.

In the meantime, we can garner hope from the words of the angel to Daniel in the final verse of the book that bears his name. After becoming privy to all of the affliction yet to come, Daniel was still faced with the task of returning to his every day life. Before departing, the angel told him these words:

“As for you, go your way until the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will rise to receive your allotted inheritance” (12:13)

Let us do the same. Let us go our way–Jesus’s way–until He calls us home. Let us rest in His sovereignty even if our circumstances speak otherwise. Let’s rest in His Truth and be buoyed by His hope, knowing that our journey through adversity ends at “the promised eternal inheritance” (Hebrews 9:15).

And maybe, just maybe….turn off the news.

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