If you go to church for 70 years, as I have, some biblical stories get repeated over and over. One is Daniel in the lions’ den.
To tell the truth, I haven’t read that story for years. Yet, recently, one of my pastors preached a virtual sermon from Daniel 6 as I sat on my couch sipping coffee. I recalled how this story had formed and informed my faith.
When I was young, I had a Bible with pictures. There was a beautiful garden with a snake scaring a woman. Then there was the even more scary picture of a father with a knife in his hand and a young boy tied up about to be killed. I remember, distinctly, my father reading this story aloud to me as he held me in the overstuffed rocking chair after supper but couldn’t continue because he was crying.
Then there was the picture of a young man sitting under a tree, playing a harp and singing. I had a cousin named David, so I knew his parents must have liked the Psalms.
And, of course, there was the young man surrounded by lions.
Picture after picture, story after story, God’s story was embedded in my child’s brain. I knew it was important.
Jesus, a tall farmer man with long brown hair, held sheep and was kind but died on a cross and then stood all in white in front of a stone grave. Everything turned out wonderfully. This Bible story was full of hard things, but God was powerful and present to the world — and to me.
Years later, I wrote my master’s thesis on teaching the Bible as literature to high school students. I used the short stories of Jonah, Esther, Ruth and Daniel as my subjects and compared various translations for their reading level. There was Daniel’s story again. I analyzed the stories and determined the Revised Standard Version was more readable than the King James.
Now my faith as an adult was shaped by scholarship and made available outside church structures. Could I convince skeptical sophomores the Bible was great literature and not just a church book?
Then I resigned a beloved teaching career, entered seminary and became a pastoral intern. One of my earliest sermons, “On Closing the Mouths of Lions,” was on Daniel 6.
My faith was challenged by young men who refused to register with Selective Service and consequently were jailed or fined. How could Daniel’s story again creep into my faith story so easily? I saw the power of the government meet the power of Christians in a contemporary setting. This was no picture- book-scary situation. Living out one’s faith had real consequences.
I have been shaped by the biblical story. When I heard the recent sermon on Daniel and his survival in the den of lions, the part of the story I did not remember was the death in the lions’ den of Daniel’s accusers — plus their wives and children. Though the king claimed God’s name, he punished more than just the ones who tricked him to use his power. When the “king” claims God’s name but rules ruthlessly, then our faith needs to cry out and protect the vulnerable, the oppressed, the women and children.
Faith formation happens from innocent picture-Bible days through 70-plus years of church attendance. Meeting with others in prayer, discussion, singing, Zoom worship, virtual vacation Bible school and telling the Bible stories for today’s world is sacred time. May the Bible text fill your mind, tickle your imagination and form a Jesus-witness to a watching world.
Dorothy Nickel Friesen, a retired Mennonite pastor and denomination minister, is president of Springs Forth! Faith Formation Inc., a multi-age, online curriculum publishing group. She lives in North Newton, Kan.