I have been reading stories from the book of Daniel to my little girls at bedtime this week. Last night we covered the bit in chapter 7 where Daniel has a terrifying vision of four great beasts coming out of the sea. Fantastical creatures: lion with eagle’s wings, bear with an unsteady gait and three ribs in its mouth, a leopard with four heads and wings, and lastly a terrible monster that crashed and gnashed about with iron teeth and bronze claws and ten horns. Pretty scary stuff!
After a while their dominion was taken away. Here is Daniel 7:9, 10.
“As I looked,
thrones were placed,
and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow,
and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames;
its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued
and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment,
and the books were opened.”
He goes on to describe how the beasts had their dominion taken away and the Great Beast was killed and his body thrown into the fire to be burned. The ultimate victory thrills me, as does the descriptive language of these passages. Daniel himself said, “The visions of my head alarmed me.” When he asked about the great beast which had so terrified him, the interpretation was that it was a kingdom unlike others, “devouring the earth, breaking it down, and stamping on the pieces”. This would be a kingdom that blasphemes the Most High, wears out the saints, and imagines itself more powerful than times and laws.
It all comes to an end, up-side-down gets turned upright and righteousness reigns in the earth. We looked for a long time at an artist’s imaginative painting of the New Earth and knew that even in our wildest dreams we have so little idea what God has prepared for those who love Him. (Go read Daniel if you want to have your mind stretched and your faith strengthened. It is more fantastic than many of the modern fantasies/allegories that I have read. )
Why read this stuff to my children? Maybe I should just stick with the lion’s den? Actually, my reasoning wasn’t complex. This story came next in the Bible storybook, and they really wanted to hear about the beasts. As it turned out, it coincided with a lot of things I had been thinking about recently due to what I was reading.
A yearning for “happily ever after” is in our DNA. My girls like good endings to stories. I hope and pray that they will see how even sad stories can be happy endings because there is life beyond the now. I fully expect us to face suffering for our faith that is more than the ridicule that we currently get. I want them to have strong faith that what is seen with our eyes is only the tiniest part of Reality.
Here’s another book recommendation for you, written to people under severe trial in approximately A.D. 67: the book of Hebrews. When I studied it as a bracing message to Christians who were faltering under the weight of discipline and the struggle of endurance, it opened to me as a beautiful narrative of hope. Chapter eleven alone is enough to make one’s heart burn with courage. That long line of the faithful who were obedient to what they knew God wanted for them, and so they pleased Him. It brings tears when I read how they were looking for a city that was prepared for them, looking for the reward, the better life. “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” (Heb. 11:13)
It may sound shallow to look for the reward, but it’s what motivates us, isn’t it? How else would anyone have fortitude to stay faithful while being sawn in half as part of a torture session?
My third book recommendation is Safely Home, by Randy Alcorn. The author contrasts the life of an all-American businessman with the life of a Chinese friend and former roommate from college. As you follow the story, you get this knot of sadness, knowing that it isn’t going to end well for everybody. It’s not easy, light reading, even if it is classified as a novel. In fact, I cried for a good portion of the book.
My friend Heidi, who has a little girl in heaven, has recommended Randy Alcorn’s book titled Heaven to me. She describes it as thought-provoking study from the Bible as to what heaven may be like. From her description, I think Mr. Alcorn modeled his novel on his theological studies on heaven.
Maybe you, like me, feel oppressed with the brokenness that seems to whack and crush people down. It doesn’t seem right and it’s not OK. We feel in our souls that we ought to fix things, pray them away, not let bad things ever happen to anybody. This is an intrinsic part of a person who loves righteousness- the compulsion to right wrongs and do something about injustice. In fact, the Hebrews heroes of faith “conquered kingdoms, administered justice, quenched flames, were valiant in battle… the dead were raised to life.”
Then there were others who were tortured, facing jeers and flogging, and when they weren’t in jail, they were living in holes in the ground. “They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated.” I don’t think that mess felt okay to them. Yet the world was not worthy of them. And why? Their faith. The rule of the beast would not last forever and they knew it in their souls.
We have to live in hope, my friends. The best is not yet.
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