Thought for the Day by Robin Fishwick
“You have the prophets”
Darius should really have known better. He was 62 when he came to rule and should have learned a lot on the way. Yet when some of his advisers ask him to sign a law making it compulsory for him to be worshipped as a god he happily goes along with this without thinking “Hold on, why are they doing this? Could this possibly be a trap?” Nor does he think “I’m not really a god, am I? It’s probably not a good idea to wind up any real gods there might be around”. He soon finds his limitations, bringing it home to him that he isn’t much of a god, when he realises that through his own word he has condemned his most trusted friend to death. And he has given his word, which he is powerless to rescind.
As we near the season of Advent, I am thinking about what the word means that is usually translated as “repent”. In the Greek it is “metanoia” which could also be translated as “post-thinking”, “thinking beyond” or more colloquially, “thinking outside the box”. It isn’t, however, a call to cleverness. Darius didn’t learn anything new about himself, but he was confronted with the consequences of his sloppiness of thought. Of course, in the book of Daniel, God redeems the situation by sparing Daniel, causing Darius in the first instance to be relieved that he was spared the consequences of his folly and then to be aware that God as served by Daniel is one who does amazing things.
From this point on, the Book of Daniel goes into the realm of visions and dreams, much like a lot of the content of the Book of Revelation such as our particularly apocalyptic New Testament reading today. Dreams and visions, though, are not mechanisms by which thoughts enter our minds, so much as they are ways in which our minds rethink ideas which are already there. They may re-order or re-express thoughts in ways that have unexpected beauty or cogency, but they are not a hotline to God. Much damage has been done (and continues to be done) by people regarding these scriptures as encoded messages to the future reader – as if God is setting us some cryptic clues and expects us to be very clever and decypher them. Consequently, for centuries now there have been readers matching up these texts with their own current events in an attempt to predict what is about to happen next. For me this a great abuse of our sacred texts, treating them as an instrument of divination, as if some message can be found in their entrails. Because I don’t think there is anything magic about prophets and we don’t have to have any esoteric or kabbalistic knowledge to be prophets ourselves.
In mythology, the hero has to answer a riddle to continue the quest. God, however, does not speak to us in riddles, but through the simple promptings of love and truth. We don’t need to have super powers for God to speak to us, or through us, just the ability to look at those around us and at what is going in our world with open minds and generous hearts. Darius failed to do this, blinded by arrogance and worldly power, he developed what in these days could be described as “a relaxed relationship with the truth”. The call to repentance, then, is not a demand to have any special skills or knowledge we do not have. It is a call to “know better” what we already know. Wisdom and understanding will come to us, but only if we have the humility to make room for it – to make a space in our thoughts for God to enter.