There’s something about the Book of Daniel that I’ve found both challenging and encouraging in the last few weeks: the way that Daniel presents wisdom. It has forced me to think about what on earth I can do when I feel like all I have is a view from the ground. It is, I think, a Christmas message.
Nothing can keep Daniel down. He is educated in every way, he is fearless in the face of danger, always faithful, elevated politically again and again, able to interpret dreams and writings on the wall. It’s about the least relatable thing I’ve ever heard of. If there’s anything that almost all of us can feel right now, it’s the feeling of just not knowing. Not knowing where we’ll be next semester. Not knowing what to believe in. Not knowing if it’s worse to expect pain and disappointment or be surprised by it once again. Daniel saw the view from heaven, and I can’t see more than a few feet in any direction with my view from the ground.
But there’s another Daniel we meet in chapters 7-12. This Daniel may have been able to interpret anything for anyone else, but the fate of his own people leaves him at a loss. The only thing he understands without having it be told to him is the weight of the sin of his people (Dan. 9). But when he sees these heavenly visions, he falls back down to the dust. Somehow, his legendary wisdom coexists with the fact that he doesn’t understand what he wants to most. Yes, Daniel gets to have visions of the end of all things explained to him by Gabriel, but it leaves him saying, “I was dismayed by the vision and did not understand it” (Dan. 8:27). It is this distraught, uncomprehending Daniel that is called “most treasured” by God himself. And at the end of his life, he is promised that he will die, despite it all, but that one day he will be lifted up from the grave and shine like the stars of the heavens.
Daniel is called wise and beloved and given promises he never dreamed of because God had been acting even in Babylon, when all promises had seemed to have come to an end. Daniel isn’t a story about knowing everything, but about the incredible difficulty of acting faithfully when we understand so little it leaves us feeling sick. That’s the kind of world Jesus entered into when he was born two millennia ago. He, like Daniel, would end his life not with an answer but with a tortured question. He, like Daniel, was a descendant of King David who would leave no physical children behind him, even though God had promised him descendants forever. Jesus was born into a life like that so that he would “lead many to righteousness” (Dan. 12:3).
Daniel was promised the heavens (Dan. 12:2-3), and Jesus descended from them, but like us, they lived on the ground. They had to live in occupied territory their whole lives. Because the view from the ground is the best view for seeing how we can be refined and love others better. The view from the ground is where Daniel’s visions can actually teach us something. Jesus coming to the earth transforms knowledge from something impenetrable to something that penetrates the depths of who we are. Because knowing him is the kind of knowledge that meets us, here on the ground, that grasps us and gives us hope.
Caleb King ’23 is a sophomore in Kirkland House studying Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.