“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.