Daniel – Goodness will prevail

a reflection by Dan Spragg

One of my summer reads has been ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ by Margaret Atwood. The original book written in
1985 experienced a resurgence in popularity as Donald Trump was elected as President of the USA in 2016. Since
then a Television Series has been produced, about to enter its fourth season, and in 2019 Atwood released a sequel.

Here’s a good summary of the original story:
In the mid-1980s near Boston, Massachusetts, a cabal of right-wing fundamentalists murders the U.S.
President and members of Congress, disenfranchises women by impounding their credit cards and denying
them jobs and education, and sets up Gilead, a repressively conservative state bent on annihilating
homosexuals, abortionists, and religious sects other than their own, and resettling Jews, old women, and
nonwhite people in radioactive territory, known as the Colonies. Because nuclear and biological warfare has
polluted vast areas, the population suffers a sharp decline in viable births and a rise in birth defects.
Consequently, infertile and aged females, as well as homosexuals, are dispatched as clean-up crews in the
Colonies. Fertile women involved in illicit liaisons or second marriages are apprehended, indoctrinated, and
parceled out to Commanders of the secret police as Handmaids. These red uniformed breeders live in
seclusion and virtual slavery and are deprived of their real names and labeled with a patronym of the men
who control their lives-as in “Ofcharles” and “Ofwarren.” The purpose of these polygynous relationships is the
perpetuation of the white race, which carries on warfare in outlying areas in a struggle for supremacy.1

Atwood’s reasons for writing the original story were, “Having absorbed the New England Puritan tradition during her
studies at Harvard, she observed the rise of the U.S. political right in the 1980s and compared the Moral Majority’s
grass-roots menace to the phenomenon of Hitler.”2 and so set about to write a ‘what if?’ scenario of what things
might look like if the ultra-conservatives managed to turn their ideology into an authoritarian regime. It is quite scary
stuff. The TV series is brutal, depressing and masterfully crafted which leaves me thinking that things wouldn’t have
to go too much further in some parts of our world for this to become reality. The Handmaid’s Tale closes with a
lecture delivered some 200 years later which clearly sees this empire having fallen and disappeared into the pages of
history. Thankfully though, that’s how things go isn’t it? Empires come and empires go.

John Calvin, a smart guy from the 16th century who had a bit to do with Presbyterian history among other
things called the world “the theatre of God’s glory”. In this theatre we call the universe, it does seem that we
humans do have a special place in it as Psalm 8 teaches. And this reminds us of the creation poem from Genesis 1.
The beautiful opening to the bible which sets the scene for God’s big story. A poem which describes the engine room
of the universe to be one of joy, freedom and love. God’s story begins with pure joy, pure love, pure freedom; this is
what ‘makes the world go round’ so to speak and it is in the midst of this we find ourselves, made in the image and
likeness of God. In the biblical narrative Israel was chosen to be God’s people, called apart to be God’s face to the
world. Humanity made in the image and likeness of God and Israel called apart to be a witness to what God was now
up to. More often than not their story is a messy one, they ended up in exile – removed from their homes, their land,
uprooted without a place to call home. This is where we find Daniel. Daniel’s particular story of being in exile, in
Babylon, trying to live how God has called them to live there and then is told within God’s big story of freedom, joy,
and love.

Daniel’s name, which I am familiar with, becomes quite interesting when you look at the themes found in
Daniel’s story. In Hebrew Daniel means: God is my judge. This might have negative connotations but, let’s remember
where God’s story begins – with joy, with freedom, with love. Israel saw God as a righteous judge – a judge who was
the one who ruled out of love and justice; not to be confused with vengeance. So, God is my judge simply means,
God is the one who I serve, God is the one who rules, God shall be my ruler, my way of living is God’s, I live in God’s
way… which is… joy, freedom, life, love, mercy, justice… by implication – the flourishing of everything, its potential
coming to fruition.

Daniel it seems lived up to what his name meant. God was his King as far as he was concerned. These are
the stories we find in the first half of the book of Daniel – stories of a man who stood up in the face of the
Babylonian Kings and refused to worship them. Stories of ultimate trust in God’s provision as he refused to eat what
the King provided essentially saying to the King, ‘you are not my host, I will not eat the food of your table, you are
not my provider – God will provide all I need’. He was disciplined in the practising of his faith – three times a day he retreated to pray even when it was illegal to do so. He was able to interpret the dreams of the Babylonian Kings and
offer counsel to them – insights and wisdom that only could have come from God. And in the place of physical
danger he was protected. In the second half of Daniel, if we’re honest, things get weird. There are dreams and
visions of beasts with horns. There is death, there is destruction, there are angels who visit with Daniel, and there
are conversations that happen with these angels. There is what seems like predictions of catastrophe and predictions of God’s victory.

There are statues made of Bronze and Iron and Clay, and there are rocks that grow into
mountains so big that they cover the entire world. It is apocalyptic in nature, strange to understand, but really it is
just someone trying to put words to that which is beyond words. It is a descriptive language used to paint pictures
rich with metaphor and deeper meaning. In Daniel, God is Daniel’s judge yes but ultimately God is the one who rules
over the entire world – the one who in the face of all darkness and evil will reign supreme, the one who no matter
what sort of kingdom, or regime, political power, or terrorist group rises up, will be victorious. God as ruler of all will
be the only one standing at the end of the day. Goodness itself will prevail.
So Daniel, what do you show us? Here’s some thoughts: In the face of all that is evil, God will act on God’s
promises to restore God’s way in the world. In all time and space God will be with us, providing for us, walking with
us, caring for us where we find ourselves. In Daniel we see that God is God – creator, ruler, sustainer – over all. In
Daniel we see that God is protector, guider, and giver of wisdom. In Daniel we see God who is hope shining bright in
the face of narrow, dark, downright evil people, systems, and structures. In Daniel we see a human being living as a
mirror of God’s image and likeness in the world, living as God’s witness to what God is up to in the midst of all his
experiences. Experiences of both fear and courage, experiences of both times of abundance and freedom, and times
of scarcity and restriction. Experiences of both being in control and being controlled. Experiences of living through
different seasons.

The release this week of New Zealand’s Climate Change Commission’s ‘Draft Advice for Consultation’3
got me thinking again about Climate Change. It seems that we are on the whole becoming more accepting of what some of
the implications of this might be. Generally, I don’t think we are ready to adopt the large changes that we need to,
but we need to be ready. I hope that we can adapt and learn to live differently. I’m realising that I need to for the
sake of my kids not simply for what might be at stake in my own lifetime. I also hope that we can get there without
taking cue from dystopian novels but no doubt there are and will be ideologies that compete for our allegiance.
There are indeed some dominant and powerful empires in our world at this very moment who most certainly have
their visions of a perfect world. Taking cue from the story of Daniel, I wonder, what does it mean for us to say that
God is our Judge – our ruler, our provider, our protector and our wisdom? In the face of Climate Change and the
associated chaos and reactions from all sides of the political spectrum, in the midst of all the power plays of
temporary empires, what does it mean for us to live out the story fueled by joy, freedom and love? As the church
who through Christ gets to join in with God’s big story what does it mean for us to have God as the one we put our
trust in? What does it mean for us to live in our particular time and space as witnesses to God’s ultimate joy,
freedom and love? Or in other words, what is it to love God and love our neighbours as we face the reality of our
impact on the climate? Where we are as the church is a good question.

Andrew Dutney from the Uniting Church in Australia gives some helpful words to this question:
Of course the church’s witness is partially located in ecclesiastical settings…. But the church’s witness is
primarily located elsewhere: in the witness of Christian people, being obedient to Christ in their daily lives and
occupations in the world. The church is mostly in the world, where most of its members spend most of their
time. And, consequently, that is where the church is mostly at witness. Moreover, the church is more eloquent
in its witness through the daily lives of its members: lives of service, courage, compassion, and honesty lived
in obedience to Christ; Christian lives lived in homes, factories, offices or universities, on farms, ships,
suburban blocks or [schools and] campuses, among professionals, tradespeople, entrepreneurs, [students] or
pensioners. Wherever in the world its members are, there is the witness of the church – in the world, through
its members.

We are then nowhere else but where we are. Where you are, is where you are, and where we are is where
the church is as God’s witness to what God is up to in the world. God’s people who are called into a story of pure joy,
freedom and love. In the face of all that seeks to stand up and call itself King, in the face of all that seeks to climb to
the top and doesn’t worry about who it crushes to get there, in the face of all that seeks to gain profit from spending
what it doesn’t have, in the face of all that seeks to promise status by buying today’s luxuries at the expense of
tomorrow’s necessitates, in the face of all that seeks to suck the planet dry of the abundant systems of provision and
life, in the face of senseless violence and terror, this where we are right now – we are people who live by a different
story, a story fuelled by pure joy, freedom and love.

Daniel. A story that promises Goodness, that God’s way, will always prevail. We have hard work ahead of us
to continue to adapt and learn in response to Climate Change, and we will always have hard work to do to stand up
to any oppressive empire that seeks to impose its vision of a perfect world in the name of a solution. But, Goodness
will prevail and that can give us hope to live faithfully in God’s way knowing that we are participating in a much
longer lasting and life giving story.

1 See – https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/h/the-handmaids-tale/book-summary
2 See – https://www.cliffsnotes.com/literature/h/the-handmaids-tale/about-the-handmaids-tale
3 You can find that here – https://www.climatecommission.govt.nz/get-involved/our-advice-and-evidence/
4 Found at, http://timhein.com.au/2015/11/04/beyond-sunday-intro-to-faith-life-work/ – words in brackets mine.