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The DEEP

The Weight of the Word

The pain of being a Lightbearer

The Weight of the Word

Daniel 8:26-27

 

 26 “And the vision of the evenings and mornings
Which was told is true;
Therefore seal up the vision,
For it refers to many days in the future.”

27 And I, Daniel, fainted and was sick for days; afterward I arose and went about the king’s business. I was astonished by the vision, but no one understood it.

 

Have you ever received information that was so astounding, so important that you almost did not know what to do with it? Each of us has been in this position at one time or another: word of a wonderful pregnancy that you have been asked to keep secret, knowledge that a co-worker is about to be fired, or a dreaded, deadly diagnosis that promises heart-wrenching days ahead.

This is the place where we find Daniel at the end of Chapter 8, except that God’s prophet is not given secrets about babies or  gossip from HR. Instead, Daniel has received an incredible vision from God of future events—and the news is almost too much for him to bear.

Daniel is a man in exile, kidnapped as a young man during a time of war and destruction, and he has spent his life as a calm mouthpiece of God in the circus-like courts of ancient Near Eastern kings.  Daniel has delivered news of victory and of defeat, has interpreted holy handwriting on a palace wall, and has explained the heaven-sent dreams of stunned and frightened emperors. He has seen the power of God both drive men mad in their sins and lift up the humble to places of honor.

This vision is different. Images of rams and goats, of horns and kingdoms, flash before him as the events of centuries to come are laid out as a great banquet of information—and Daniel is sickened by this feast of knowledge.

27 I, Daniel, was worn out. I lay exhausted for several days. Then I got up and went about the king’s business. I was appalled by the vision; it was beyond understanding.

Daniel is burdened by the Word of God.

How can something as beautiful, as complete, and as perfect as God’s word be a burden to the point of causing physical illness to one who is tasked with interpreting it? The plain fact is that Daniel is affected physically by the truth of what is to come:

26 “And the vision of the evenings and mornings
Which was told is true;
Therefore seal up the vision,
For it refers to many days in the future.”

Daniel is not unlike Moses here after the patriarch had glimpsed the glorious majesty of God on Mt. Sinai and his face shone in reflected glory as a result–to the holy terror of God’s people:

30 So when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him. –Exodus 34:30

Daniel, on the other hand, has seen God’s future work, but he has also seen the great evils that were to come. In a sense, Daniel’s illness is a result of a kind of “reflected evil.” Moses’ face shone; Daniel’s body groaned in physical despair.

The light of the word of God is a comfort to His people, but it can also be a great burden to those who bear it in the darkness of this world.

Daniel is not unlike others who are called to preach and teach the word of God to His people and suffer physical ailments as part of the sacrifice involved in the 24/7 life that such service brings.

The Apostle Paul mentioned the “thorn in his flesh” in his letter to the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 12:6–7), and most scholars surmise that this was some sort of physical ailment the dedicated globe-trotting planter of the first churches may have suffered for many years.

Likewise, reformer John Calvin was known to suffer great internal afflictions and died at the young age of 55, working to the end in great pain to finish his Institutes.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great preacher known for his cigars and joviality, suffered quietly with depression for decades. Perhaps this colored his words of comfort to suffering believers: “Our infirmities become the black velvet on which the diamond of God’s love glitters all the more brightly.” 

How is your pastor doing these days? Have you asked him how he and his family are faring in this seemingly chaotic world of today? The call to preach and minister the gospel is a challenge in every age, but in the modern age of pandemic and panic, the stresses on the pastor have become acute.

Pastoral burnout is very real in normal times, but COVID-19 has heightened the issue. For over a year, decisions have been required that had no easy answer but bore lasting and maybe deadly consequences for God’s people. Should we require masks? What about religious freedom? Is remote worship authentic and real? How do we combat fear while remaining cautious?

All of these stresses have taken their toll, but who is comforting the comforters?  

I recently reached out to a half-dozen friends who are pastors in reformed churches. Every one of them had tried different tactics over the months, but still uncertainty reigned. One common thread among them all was that every one of them sounded very tired—and there was no end in sight.

Daniel is weighed down with news that he could have easily taken as joyous or at least dismissed as events of future kings and conquests would take place hundreds of years later. However, he is nearly overwhelmed, and just like you returning to work on a post-vacation Monday, he has to force himself to go “about the king’s business.”

The gospel, the Word, can be a burden for those who are called to carry it simply because the holy message of the Almighty is so very powerful. I believe this is what Daniel is acutely aware of: the raw power of the Ancient of Days at work in the darkness of the sinful world.

The Bible is our ultimate comfort, but it is also the ultimate power of the universe and must not be wielded lightly. A pastor who is flippant with the Word, who preaches a soft gospel tuned to scratch itchy ears, build an ego, and make people happy is deploying a squirt gun against the inferno of hell itself and is poorly arming God’s people against it.

C.S. Lewis describes the power of the gospel and pursuit of the soul by a holy God, in light of poet Francis Thompson’s image of the “hound of heaven”:

“People who are naturally religious find difficulty in understanding the horror of such a revelation. Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about ‘man’s search for God.’ To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat.” –Surprised by Joy, ch. XIV

This hound of heaven, the Gospel, can be a soft, fluffy poodle or a snarling pitbull straining at its leash. Perhaps Daniel has found himself at the end of that leash, feeling the pull of the will of God and the weariness of the responsibility in the knowledge he has been given.

Do you know the weight of the Word of God? As a believer, you pursue knowledge through prayer and the reading of scripture, devotionals, and scholarly books. You listen to Sunday sermons and stream podcasts on Biblical topics. Can you feel the impact of these words on your heart and the change they require in your life?

Daniel felt the weight of the Word of the Lord in its full power and promise, both for the good of God’s people and for the fiery challenges to come. May we feel this powerful weight as well, and may it lead us to action. Pray for those who are charged with shepherding you with love and wisdom.  In your own walk, personally seek God’s strength to help you carry His mission in your own life.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved. ESV stands for the English Standard Version. © Copyright 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved. NIV stands for The Holy Bible, New International Version®. © Copyright 1973 by International Bible Society. Used by permission. All rights reserved. KJV stands for the King James Version.

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