I am ashamed of myself.
Last night a young atheist sat at my dinner table, prodding me with questions about my life. I had no difficulty explaining the humanitarian work I was involved in for the many years we lived in South Asia. Mentoring illiterate women and training untouchables to become teachers is quite the fashionable thing to have done. But how could I explain to this highly intelligent, completely secular neuroscientist my personal, interactive relationship with God or, even harder still, His zeal for His glory among the nations?
I balked. Seeing my life through her eyes, it made no sense. Voices from God? You mean thoughts from your own subconscious which somehow bypassed your self-awareness filter. Purposefully going to developing countries to call people of other faiths to the worship of your God? I thought the West had gotten beyond such imperialistic arrogance. A God who commands the worship of all people everywhere? Whoa. You’ve got to be kidding. Who would even want to believe in that?
The invitation to faith implies a humiliation of reason.
This was one of those defining moments in which personal faith collides with public reality. What I easily accept and even stake my personal life on suddenly seemed silly and obnoxious when described in a humanistic, scholarly context. I was confronted with an unavoidable test of faith: did I believe in the reality of God’s current, imminent reign enough to publicly assert it?
Daniel was faced with a similar conundrum. Among his fellow Jews, his faith in God made sense. But at court among the most powerful and prestigious Babylonians, it must have seemed ridiculous. He was well-enough versed in the literature and philosophy of the land to know how ludicrous his stodgy, monotheistic convictions must sound, and he was certainly politically aware enough to recognize how threatening his claims of his God’s supreme power and glory would be. What subservient captive would have the chutzpah to tell his illustrious conqueror, “Respectfully sir, you are nothing compared to my God.”
Then Daniel (also called Belteshazzar) was greatly perplexed for a time, and his thoughts terrified him. …
“This is the interpretation, O king, and this is the decree the Most High has issued against my lord the king: You will be driven away from people and will live with the wild animals; you will eat grass like cattle and be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven times will pass by for you until you acknowledge that the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone he wishes.”
Daniel 4:19, 24-25
And yet that is exactly what Daniel did. When Nebuchadnezzar summoned him to interpret a disturbing dream, he was faced with a tough choice. Asserting what he knew to be true would be dangerous. How could he tell the king that his God was going to prove Himself the superior King, judging him for his arrogance and humiliating him until he gave glory to the God of his captives? That would be a bit like the ant threatening the boot, just before it went “crunch.”
But Daniel believed in the power of God more than he feared the power of the king. He was more convinced of the actuality of God’s invisible reign than he was of the reality of Nebuchadnezzar’s very obvious reign, so tangible that Daniel had experienced the subjugation of its lash and cuffs.
Immediately what had been said about Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled. He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle. His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird. At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation.
Daniel believed, so he spoke up despite how ridiculous it sounded. And God showed up and proved him right. The mighty king of Babylon down on all fours, eating grass and hanging out in his birthday suit. The glorious King of Heaven exalted to the highest throne, proving once again that He is worthy of all honor and devotion. Daniel’s faith had collided with human reality, and his faith had not backed down. Instead it had changed reality.
Faith changes sight.
Likewise, God’s Spirit emboldened me last night, nudging me forward to assert what I know to be true about Him. Thankfully my message was not one of judgment but of invitation.
He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?” At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honor and splendor were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom. My advisers and nobles sought me out, and I was restored to my throne and became even greater than before.
But the invitation to faith implies a humiliation of reason. The call to glorify God necessitates a subjugation of the glory of man, putting it in its proper place under His feet. And as I talked to my guest about the great Love of my life, I watched her face rise and fall in disbelief and amazement, disdain and desire. Such loss of personal autonomy. Such gain of joy and significance. She left misty-eyed and smiling, touched by my testimony of the ways God has given me greater glory with Him than I ever had apart from Him.
In the end, Nebuchadnezzar’s eyes were opened to the truest reality. I can only pray hers will be, too.