In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king's palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.
I was twelve when the planes crashed into the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. A child then, I still feel that wound we share as Americans twenty years later. Life goes on though. We wake up and go to work. We change diapers and play with grandchildren. We worship and go to soccer practice. Busyness blurs our memory. We forget. Then the first cool breeze after summer blows. Some image flashes on TV. A catch of breath, the welling of tears—we remember. We remain in a union of grief, struggling to make sense of terror and devastation. Vicktor Frankl, a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps, concluded his classic Man’s Search for Meaning with these words: “We have come to know man as he really is. After all, man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.” How do we make sense of this? Daniel offers us a clue.
Daniel was an attractive, smart young Jewish man who lived during the devastating crisis of Judah’s exile. He was one of the elite people chosen for advanced training in Babylonian culture, prepared for service to the pagan king and empire. Israel had failed its vocation to be a blessing to the world, and Daniel lived amidst the ensuing curse. “Because you did not serve the Lord your God with joyfulness and gladness of heart, because of the abundance of all things, therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger and thirst, in nakedness, and lacking everything” (Deuteronomy 28:47-48). Even so, Daniel’s identity was thoroughly rooted in God’s righteous rule over human history. His name literally means “God is my judge.”
After 9/11, we can extend Frankl’s words to say man is that being who hijacked airplanes to kill; however, he is also that being, like Todd Beamer, who prayed the Lord’s Prayer and Psalm 23 before attempting to reclaim Flight 93 from terrorists. On the twenty-year anniversary, Lisa Beamer spoke at Wheaton College in honor of her deceased husband. “Todd loved his life, but he knew that his life was much more than his 32 years on this earth. His soul was secure, even when his body wasn’t, because Jesus was his Savior.” She added, “The core of healthy human identity is a thorough rooting in God’s goodness and in His greatness . . . The balance of both is a core identity that produces healthy and useful humanity in any place, at any time, under any circumstance.”
Daniel’s identity was thoroughly rooted in God’s goodness and His greatness. He trusted in the righteous judge of human history despite the devasting circumstances he lived through. As God’s purpose in human history reached its climax, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). He was stripped naked, lacking everything, and cried out on the cross, “I thirst” (Philippians 2:7, Matthew 27:38, John 19:28). In Christ, the curse of sin and human terror is transformed by the God who gave His only begotten Son (John 3:16). There lies the deep meaning that transcends even the most devastating circumstances, as mysterious as that is to us now, and will one day make all things new.