“For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
“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.”
At the end of the historical books of
the Bible, after the kings and the exile and the return home to Israel, the
perspective of the biblical writers travels back to the vast Persian
Empire—where it just left—to the great city of Susa. Here we find Esther, a
Jewish orphan taken in by her cousin Mordecai. She lives as a minority in a
strange land, and she drifts day-to-day unnoticed by the pagans.
story begins, though, without her, when Queen Vashti refuses her husband King
Xerxes and is thus banished from his court. To replace her, the king holds a
beauty pageant of sorts throughout Persia, and Esther is chosen to be his
lovely bride (though her relation to the Jews remains hidden). Meanwhile,
because he has been personally offended by Mordecai, Xerxes’ right-hand man
Haman is plotting to eradicate the Jews in Persia. But just in time, the queen
bravely reveals her ethnicity to the king so that Haman’s plan is thwarted and
the Jews are saved. Esther, despite her hiding—and the promiscuity that some
accuse her of, is able to bring about a righteous end and the salvation of her
long before Esther, another generation of Jews lived in the king’s palace. The
young noble Daniel is among these sojourners in Persia, and he is taken into
the royal courts along with his friends to learn the language of the Chaldeans
and serve the king. There he is exalted and his name is established.
story begins in the presence of the king’s chief eunuch as he is prepared to be
assimilated into King Nebuchadnezzar’s court. Daniel and his friends are given
the “king’s food” (likely something unclean) in order to prepare them for royal
service. But Daniel declines and, instead, declares a challenge: “Please
test your servants for ten days. Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and
water to drink—then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat
the royal food.” God blesses the Hebrews, and at the end of ten days, they are
declared fitter and wiser than their Babylonian counterparts. From this day on,
Daniel serves the foreign kings—uncompromising and with God at his side.
popular biblical characters demonstrate two competing ways for living the
Christian life in exile. On one hand, we have an approach that acknowledges the
fallen-state of the world and hopes to operate within it (Esther); the 20th
century theologian Rienhold Niebuhr seems to support this. On the other hand,
we have an approach that acknowledges the fallen world but refuses to
compromise our divine mandate (Daniel); Niebuhr’s contemporary opponent Stanley
Hauerwas claims to support this method of Christian living.
Niebuhr’s logic and theology has influenced most of American Christianity, and
when you understand it, you can start to see it play out in the choices and
lives of most Christians in this country. Niebuhr’s theology begins with the
belief that sin is a social event, a phenomenon that all people are entrenched
in and take part in, and that the primary sin of our society is pride or
selfishness (you might be more familiar with this concept from the chapter of
C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity entitled “The Great Sin”). This pride
leads people to attempt to morally fulfill biblical commandments as
individuals. Niebuhr argued that these attempts are impossible, demonstrating
people’s self-love (i.e. the Promethean Illusion). In response, he sought to
defeat this hypocrisy in society and the self-righteous illusions that come
with it. Niebuhr posited that the answer is Christianity’s sacrificial love.
realize that Niebuhr’s logic is fairly dense. But, in short, his theology plays
out as Christians working with the resources they have available to them. The
world is fallen and trying to perfectly live out the Bible’s call within the
world cannot be done, so Christians accept this world and little-by-little try
to make it better. It is a step process with compromises along the way, but
continually trying to renew the world through sacrificial love.
disagrees. He associates Niebuhr with liberal Christianity, thus accusing him
of poor theology—that what Niebuhr is proposing is not Christian.
Hauerwas instead affirms a language and narrative theology. His beliefs are
built on the foundation of Christianity itself and the language of that
religion. There is no compromise, simply living out Christian ideals.
we have our dichotomy: Esther vs. Daniel, Niebuhr vs. Hauerwas, Compromise vs.
Confrontation. Which is the ultimate Christian model? They seem to be pretty
exclusive, so I posit that one must assume control of our ethical lives (i.e. everything
about our lives). Will we never settle for what can be done in this
fallen world, and always and only live Christ’s Christianity? Or will we act
rationally and realistically, inching ever forward, pulling this world from the
muck and mire?
already seen, there are biblical examples of both, and there are plenty more
than Esther and Daniel. Still, there is an example that is above the rest. It
is Jesus of Nazareth. At first glance, it may seem that we seen the Niebuhrian
theology in Jesus, because he accommodated to become human and be with us in
exile from God. But that is merely a compromise of presence (an act of
humility), not of morality. We Christians could keep in our high-walled
temples, but we go out into the world. And like Christ’s godliness, we are
uncompromising, striving for perfection. Our example of life in exile is always
Labels: compromise, Daniel, Esther, ethics, exile, purity, Rienhold Niebuhr, Stanley Hauerwas, theology