But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. Daniel 1:8
Not to us, O LORD, not to us,
But to your name give glory,
For the sake of your steadfast love
And your faithfulness!
Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
Our God is in the heavens;
He does all that he pleases.
Their idols are silver and gold,
The work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
Eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
Noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
Feet, but do not walk;
And they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
So do all who trust in them.
“Don’t look at me! The people wanted to do it, you were gone, and I didn’t know what to do! So I took their gold, threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” said Aaron the High Priest when confronted about his choice to lead Israel into idolatry (Ex. 32:23–24). Even after years of reading Exodus, I still find his words hard to take in. God spoke to Aaron (Ex. 4:27), spoke through Aaron (Ex. 4:28–29), and judged Egypt’s idols in wonders wrought by Aaron (Ex. 7:19–20). How then could Aaron completely abdicate his responsibility to God and His people? What a fearful contrast to the faith exhibited by Daniel! However, maybe Aaron’s response is difficult to hear because it hits so close to home. Who hasn’t met with temptation, chosen to sin, and then tried to shrug it off? Moreover, what can be done after such a fall?
The Heart of the Matter
The guilt and grief that come from sin can be so intense that we are tempted to avoid anything that would call us to account for the choice we have made. Faced with the reality of what we have done, it is difficult not to justify our behavior, shift blame, or even attack those who have learned to live well. Yet choosing to defend our sin only deepens the problem and increases our sense of powerlessness. It alienates us from those who can restore us to health, and it ignores the unbelief that lies at the root of our sinful behavior. When we push God away, our circumstances overthrow our convictions and we surrender ourselves to a resignation that sin is something we simply have to live with. The church abounds with slogans of socially acceptable unbelief like these:
“Well, we’re only human.”
“Boys will be boys.”
“You know, that’s just who he is.”
“God helps those who help themselves.”
“You can’t have everything.”
“That’s just the way it is.”
Now, I want to be clear: life is extremely difficult. However, these mantras tempt us to believe that difficulties cannot be overcome. They demand that we concede that faith is an illusion, that fate alone rules.
Our God Is in the Heavens
Thank God that His Scripture never blurs the line between understandable and acceptable. It depicts life in this world with remarkable fidelity, showing all the pain, fear, suffering, and darkness that envelope and often threaten to overtake us. Yet Scripture is just as faithful in presenting God in His absolute sovereignty, irreversible integrity, and astounding goodness. Thus, it bears witness that, though sin may be understandable, it is never acceptable because our God is in the Heavens, mighty and ready to save. This witness is critical because it supplies the only antidote to a heart resigned to sin: hope.
It is a surprising truth that if we are to desire our best for God we must begin by desiring our best for ourselves. It is not enough to believe that our sin is less than God deserves. This is certainly true but, by itself, amounts to only half of the gospel message. This incomplete gospel leaves us with a dead Savior and no resurrection. The full gospel is far greater and calls us to dare to hope for things that we never would have access to if God had not already made them ours in Christ. This is what the Scripture means when it tells us that it is the kindness of God that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4; Ps. 18:35). It is not until we realize that He knows who and where we are and is determined to bless us, that we find the courage to side with Him against our unbelief, our sin, and the chaos these create in and around us
The Power of Choice
Faith in the sovereign Savior is the ready resource for every Christian at this very moment. Daniel’s choice to protest the king’s food reminds us that there is no situation so hopeless, so fixed, as to keep God out of the question. If anything, Daniel’s story demonstrates that hopeless scenarios are the very places where God delights to enter, to work wonders, and to use in the blessing of millions. Whether we are facing temptation or suffering the loss of having succumbed to temptation, faith provides the way out of condemnation and into blessing (1 Cor. 10:13–14). God’s sovereignty over our circumstances provides the only basis for us to take responsibility and pursue maturity, one choice at a time.