I've been in a love affair with a guy named Daniel for years. He's accompanied me to church, Bible study, Sunday school and small groups. He's been my shoulder to cry on when life's kitchen had the heat on hell and reminded me that there was always a "fourth man" standing in the "furnace" with me. It was his life's story that reminded me that even in the mouth of the lion, God will save me, redeem me and elevate me.
All of his heroic stories shaped who I am. I believed what every preacher has ever said about him, and I never questioned whether or not the miraculous things that occurred in the book of Daniel were really legit.
Today, I found out that they were not -- they're fictional.
Yep. Fictional, fake, made-up, fabricated, imagined.
I sat in the lobby of Candler this morning with my mouth agape and my heart tormented.
"What do you mean, book of historical commentary on Daniel, that the stories of heroism that I've held so dearly is fictional?" I asked myself.
I flipped through my Bible's commentary to find some kind of solace, some explanation that would solve this crisis: How could these stories I've held on to for so long be fictional? How could something that mattered so much be historically and literally inaccurate?
I took to Facebook and threatened to jump off a classroom table if I had to really accept the idea that the stories in Daniel chapters 1-6 were fictional. (Chapters 7-12 are considered Apocalyptic Literature and requires its own discussion!) My embedded theology had been challenged, and though it wasn't the first time, it surely hit me like a ton of bricks.
I got a little pushback from friends and associates on Facebook, of course.
"The entire bible is made up!"
"Today, it feels like I just learned Santa isn't real. Why even teach it?"
Another said, "What is the point of seminary? To teach you that the Bible is farcical?"
I had to figure out what was making this break up with Daniel's heroic stories so tough and where I would go from here -- as a seminarian and as a Christian.
The running joke with many seminarians and their friends/families/church community is that seminary admits a Christian and graduates an atheist. "You lose your Jesus in there!" they say. We gain insight to the historical and literal contexts, so much so, that in some way, what was once an infallible now becomes... questionable.
What, then, do we do? I came to this conclusion (because losing my Jesus ain't an option) -- whether the stories are factual or not does not matter.
The truth remains: God's sovereignty, power and desire to have relationship with us is a consistent, irrevocable force.
When we read Scripture, we have to learn to separate the facts from the truth. The fact of the matter is, the stories told in Daniel chapters 1-6 may not have happened. Historians don't even know who authored the book and, as the stories of Daniel take its course, there are some quirky things happening within those aforementioned chapter (like the text switching from Hebrew to Aramaic then back to Hebrew).
The truth is, however, that God's power is real, that He will go to great lengths to save His (or Her) people, and that no matter where we are and under what circumstances, we can rest in the fact that God is there to save us. Through Daniel, we learn how to live/act in a world that may expect us to live contrary to what our God tells us to do -- be and remain faithful to Yahweh is a key theme of the book.
Someone asked me, "If some of the stories in the bible aren't factual, then what's the proof that God can do anything at all?"
That, my friends, is a personal thing -- what YOU believe God can do based on what you've read and understand is your own personal discernment. Knowing the history behind the story doesn't change what I believe about God; if anything, it enhances it.
It helps me to see God in a new way; it complicates yet simplifies, narrows yet expands, empties yet fills.
In a lot of ways, I feel like knowing that sometimes the story and even the characters are totally made up moves our loving affections away from these biblical personas and to the one who really matters: God.
I know it won't be the last time that I read something in Scripture that really challenges what I've thought to be true (I'll write about my disappointment in Job and my tears shed over Genesis in another post) and it is this level of questioning and critical thinking that I hope will help make me into a really awesome minister/writer/pop culture commentator/praise and worship leader/dancing machine.
I'm still working on what to do with these feelings about my man Daniel; like any love affair gone awry it takes a minute to settle into things. I am glad, however, that God walks us through this process of getting over what doesn't matter and getting to the root of what does.