The year was 536 B.C., the third year after the great Persian king, Cyrus, had overthrown the vast kingdom of Babylon, and a new hope was on the rise. For a season, it looked like the Persian-Babylonian conflict had been the war to end all wars. A new era of peace was spreading. Even the Jewish people, so long the victims of a parade of conquering hordes, had been freed from exile and allowed to return to their promised land.
The Bible says, however, that "In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia a revelation was given to [the prophet] Daniel. Its message was true and it concerned a great war." Even now, the hurricane of a great conflict with Greece was brewing in the distance. Chapters 11 and 12 of Daniel detail still more wars to come beyond that—a succession of battles extending all the way to the end of the world. An old man now, Daniel had seen so much bloodshed and heartache already. The thought of going on in a world perpetually shredded by the winds and waters of still more conflict absolutely undid Daniel. For the next three weeks, all he would do was mourn, fast, and pray.
And then God sent the angel Gabriel to encourage his servant. The text says that the angel's "body was like chrysolite"—a golden stone said by the book of Revelation to form the foundation of the New Jerusalem God will someday bring into being. "His face [was] like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude."
The text goes on to tell us that this angelic warrior had been delayed in getting to Daniel by the attack of a demonic warrior, called here "the prince of Persia." The attack had been so fierce that only the intervention of the greatest warrior angel of them all, the angel Michael, had enabled Gabriel to get through and to tell Daniel not to be afraid, because one day evil would finally and fully be overcome by God's good.
What does this experience of Daniel's have to say to you and me and to our world today? A great deal, I think, for God still speaks to people and, as to Daniel, God's message is true and it concerns "a great war." It is no secret to most of us, I think, that the century behind us was the bloodiest, most war-ridden era in recorded history. If we read the news at all, we know also that the 21st Century is not shaping up to be any different.
We can point to many explanations for these things. We can cite the battle over oil and other resources. We can point to the cultural differences between ethnic groups. We can cite the gap between classes and the growing divide between those who have a share in the technology and wealth of the Information Age and those who do not. We can see the clash between radical Islam and just about anything else. The biblical worldview holds, however, that what we are witnessing is simply the surface of a far greater struggle—the Great War between Good and Evil.
We must be aware of the dangers of the Great War.
I know that many get uneasy when religious people start talking in these terms, and I can understand that wariness, can't you? It seems only wise to recognize several dangers that confront us when we speak of good and evil. For one thing, we have a tendency to use these terms selfishly. Those of you who've seen the film Kingdom of Heaven will be freshly aware of the horrors wrought by those cross-wearing Crusaders who claimed that slaughtering and stealing from others was pleasing to God when, in fact, it was only enriching them. From Hitler to Hussein, we've seen how fond fascists are of the phrases of faith to justify their means. History is full of people who blew others to bits believing they were waging a war against the "Great Satan" God had called them to defeat. Most of us are quick to see ourselves on the side of "good" and those who threaten us as altogether "evil." But if we do this without confessing the selfish sin that can cloud our vision, we will be surprised when we stand before the God who is truly good.
Not only do we sometimes use the terms good and evil too selfishly, but we also run the risk of using these words too simplistically. It is important to remember what a puzzling alloy of light and darkness, of sweetness and sin, we human beings are. Ten minutes after Jesus said, "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," Jesus also had to say to him, "Get thee behind me Satan." As hard as I have tried to do right along the way, I know I have done evil as well. How often are people amazed when the kind man next door turns out to be a serial killer? These realities ought to temper our rhetoric when we blithely speak of who's good and who's evil.
We also run the risk of using these terms too superficially at times. People will sometimes say someone is a really "good" politician, athlete, or actor when he's philandering on the side or squandering her money on ridiculous things. Maybe this helps explain why, on one occasion when Jesus was being praised for his goodness, Jesus asked: "Why do you call me good? No one is good-except God alone." Jesus was not, of course, denying that he himself was good. He was simply driving home the point that, without a clear vision of God, the concept of "good" is too easily reduced to shallow appearances or isolated acts.
This is why it is so important that we keep returning to worship each week, or immersing ourselves in the Bible. It is why it is so crucial that we keep training our children to do this. For without a clear and consistent vision of the goodness of God, as Daniel and the apostles before us had, there is a danger that we will speak of good and evil—not just too selfishly, too simplistically, or too superficially—but also too sensitively.
G.K. Chesterton contended that "Society [today] is being victimized by humility in the wrong place." Modesty has been removed from the arena of personal ambition (where it properly belongs) and relocated to the arena of personal conviction (where it is not meant to be). We have become afraid to declare with passion that there is a divine Good to which all human beings are accountable, whose standards apply to all cultures, and whose values enhance every society and life in which they take root. Stuttered by insecurity in our beliefs, Chesterton asserts, we are "on a road to producing a race of people too intellectually modest to believe in the multiplication tables." Too sensitive to offend anyone's personal definition of God or ethics, we've grown reluctant to speak of a humanity caught up in an ancient war between a very real Good that longs for the salvation of every person and that very persistent Evil that would be pleased to drag the whole world into Hell.
We must answer the call to the Great War.
But, you know what? The world is more ready than we realize to hear what Christians believe. So long as the message is offered by those who grasp how selfishness can co-opt the cause, how non-simplistic is the battle in every human heart, how much we need a vision of true goodness that goes beyond the superficial—so long as the soldiers remain this wise and humble, the world is very ready to hear the call of God. Do you know why I'm so sure of this? It's because of people's reaction to a modern day Gabriel—the one that comes with a flash like lightning, with flaming torches, and with the gleam of a silver screen.
Why do you think people across the planet have made the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars among the best-selling movies of all time? What is it they see in the story of a little Hobbit who answers a call to go on a great journey, to bond his life with a motley crew of valiants, bent on stopping a tide of evil from consuming their land? Why have millions of people over three decades packed out theaters to watch a vast war played out among the stars between the forces of light and darkness? Why will millions more rush to see the Narnia story, about a family of English children who follow a lion who breaks the power of endless winter by laying down his life for his friends?
Why is this so? It is because a worldview that speaks of the battle of good and evil being played out all around us (on the visible and the invisible planes)—which tells of the importance of all our personal choices; which extols the value of journeying in community with faithful others whether they look like knights or fairies or hairy wookies; which declares the power of selfless sacrifice to free others; which promises the triumph of love and light in the end; which is largely the biblical worldview in Technicolor—is the most compelling, inspiring, and puzzle-completing vision the world has yet seen.
I say yet seen, because God has saved the best production for now, and these movies are only the trailer. He has saved the best actors for now, and central casting is ringing your phone. What God is calling for and what the world is aching for are people like Daniel—people willing, in spite of their fatigue, to answer the call anew—people who get out of their theater seat and "take a stand" in the Great War of our time. Will you answer that call? If so, then here's the script.
First, recognize the stakes. The Bible says that following Christ's call is about a whole lot more than getting dressed up so we can come here to hide from the world and sing some sweet songs. God is not primarily interested in building church attendance. "For God so loved the world, that he sent his Son." He's committed to defeating evil completely and transforming the world. The future of souls, the fate of our cities, the hopes of kids cowering in corners, are on the line.
Secondly, choose the good. The Bible teaches that everything began trending toward the dark side when the original human beings made a bad choice over a little thing. "I think I should have that fruit. What harm could there be in that?" You are going to have choices to make about what you fill your head and heart with. You are going to have choices to make about how you spend your money or time. You are going to have choices to make about how you respond to conflict and the temptation to lie or lust. What you model for your children, how you treat people in your workplace or school, what you do when you're out there on the road will affect the course of the War. In the words of Joshua: "Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve."
Thirdly, travel in groups. As Eve or Jesus or Frodo could tell you, Evil loves to get you alone. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, however: "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves." And, "a cord of three strands is not quickly broken." If you don't have a small group or a community of trusted companions with whom you travel—who watch your back, who pick you up when your strength is gone, who hold you accountable to your calling—stop at nothing to find them. Talk with me and I'll help you find them. Your part in the war depends on it.
Finally, expect the journey to be hard and long but ultimately victorious. Jesus said: "In this world you will have troubles, but be brave for I have overcome the world." Character, family life—nothing worth striving for gets transformed on microwave time. Forget the quick fix, the sudden solution, the seven easy steps. Just keep walking. Don't give up, Frodo. Don't lose hope Lucy. Don't be afraid, Luke. Twenty-six times in Scripture, God gives his servants the assurance He gave Daniel: "Do not be afraid." "I am with you always." "Trust in me," Jesus says. For one day the Great War will give way to the Great Peace and I, Jesus says, "will make all things new."
Dan Meyer is pastor of Christ Church.us, a nondenominational, multisite church with locations in Oak Brook and Lombard, Illinois.