“Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’ A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him and sleep fled from him. Finally at dawn, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. When he came near the den, he cried out to Daniel, ‘O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God been able to deliver you from the lions?’ Daniel replied to the king, ‘O king, my God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so they would not hurt me.'” (Daniel 6:16-22, adapted from NRSV)
In the morning, King Darius comes rushing out to the den of lions. He hasn’t slept all night, he’s been riddled with guilt for letting himself get tricked by the courtiers who are jealous of Daniel. Darius has the stone removed from the mouth of the den and he calls out, “O Daniel, has your God been able to deliver you from the lions?” To which Daniel replies, “My God did just fine with the lions. I’m okay too, thank you for asking.”
Of all the things to say to someone who has spent a night with lions! King Darius doesn’t ask, “Are you okay? Are you exhausted from fighting off the lions all night? Do you need first aid — did the lions eat your arm or nibble your toes?” No, King Darius says, “I feel guilty for putting you in a life-threatening situation, but I’m really much more curious about what your God did!” If I were Daniel, coming off of a terrifying night of sitting sleepless in the same space as lions, and someone asked me “How did it go between God and the lions?” I would be sooo inclined to say, “This is not about God this morning! This is about me, and I would like everyone to focus on comforting me and doting over me because I just managed not to get eaten!”
But Daniel knows it isn’t about him; it isn’t about whether he manages to survive in a lions’ den. This whole event is about God’s ability to be God, no matter the circumstances. Remember, this is a time when the diaspora of exiled Jews are experiencing a theological crisis: wondering whether God abandoned them when Jerusalem’s temple was destroyed, doubting if they’ll ever be able to find God in these foreign lands, questioning whether perhaps the Babylonian gods might not be stronger than Israel’s One God. In the midst of this collective faith crisis, here is Daniel confidently trusting that God can still be God — that God can still do God’s work — even without a temple, even in a foreign land, even in the crisis of a lion’s den.
And really, who else are you going to trust in a lions’ den? Daniel is a prettyboy who says wise things to kings and lives a pampered life. Wrestling lions is not his gift! But this is not a test of what Daniel can do, and Daniel knows that it’s not his test. Not every crisis that comes is a test of our own strength or survival or endurance. Not every conflict is a test of our wisdom or faith. There are moments — and Daniel can tell us it’s usually the terrifying, heart-wrenching, soul-splitting moments — that are all about what God can do.
And yes, your life might be at stake in that moment,
our lives and livelihoods might be at stake,
Daniel’s life was very much at stake…
and still this moment isn’t about Daniel, it’s still not about us.
The thing to watch for in those moments
is not your own bravery or sheer willpower;
the thing to watch for in those moments is God at work.
The thing to wait for in those moments is God being God
instead of rushing in and straining to be God ourselves.
And sometimes these moments aren’t crisis moments. They can be beautiful and awesome moments — like having a new baby or committing to a new relationship — when we pause to say, “God, this isn’t about me. This is about you doing a new thing that I have the opportunity to be part of.” So we set our egos out of the way and let God be God, and we let God do God’s work.
Not every moment in this life,
not every battle or crisis or stress that comes to you is yours to fight.
Not every battle or crisis or stress that comes to you is about you,
or about your tenacious ability to plow through and survive.
There are battles and crises and stresses that come to us
which are about God’s ability to be God,
about God’s ability to rescue
and to foster life in ways
we haven’t even envisioned.
It doesn’t mean it’s not a crappy night in the lions’ den.
It means you can let yourself off the hook of playing God in the lions’ den
— because it’s God’s turn to do the work of being God.
Scary, perhaps, but also incredibly good news:
it’s God’s job to be God.
This is God’s work.
This day is God’s mercy.
This life is God’s possibilities.
We are called to be part of it but
not to lose sight that it’s not about us.
Watch for God at work.
Wait for a vision besides your own.
Let God be God.