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Daniel, Seer of the Kingdom

Daniel Berrigan

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This article is excerpted from Daniel: Under Siege of the Divine, a commentary on the Book of Daniel by the poet, priest, and activist Daniel Berrigan.

He said, “Go your way, Daniel, for the words are to remain secret and sealed until the time of the end.  Many shall be purified, cleansed, and refined, but the wicked shall continue to act wickedly. None of the wicked shall understand, but those who are wise shall understand.” (Dan. 12:9–10)

Is the future, then, bound ineluctably to the past, like a captive to a stake? Are the wicked to push on unrepentant, and the holy ones immemorially to pay up? Only this: for a time, for a time only. This is the comfort, not far short of icy, offered by the apocalyptic word.

We can at least venture this summing-up. Evil perennially renewed, the wickedness and inhumanity of authorities and structures – in face of these, human explanations, taken of themselves, fail utterly. The problem is, to speak redundantly, that the “problem of evil” is not a problem at all; it is a mystery.

The world of the Fall, obsessed as it is with scientific measurements and measurable sciences, is not pleased with the word “mystery.” The word smacks of charlatanry, obfuscation, god talk. Also (though this is seldom discussed, and is equally offensive to the makers and breakers), mystery implies limits, boundaries, even (horror!) – incapacities. The world’s way of proceeding is a problem solution equation, universally applied. Everything, even the knottiest knot, can be analyzed and fixed. Including, with the help of a psychiatric spelunker, those fast knotted spirits who are impelled to run to some god or other for their “fix” on the world or themselves. Considered in this way, lacking access or possibility of intervention, wickedness and crime degenerate into a “problem.” Things would go better (the clock again), people would become better, given education or legal abortion or the death penalty or fewer immigrants or one more (only one more – this one will “fix” things for good!) – war. By such misreading of reality, the worst intentions or the best add up to very little or no significant change. Which is to say, our plight.

The biblical implication is worlds apart from the above. Our age of technology and technique cannot in any serious way renew or pacify or humanize. “The world” thus understood is stuck; this is the biblical datum. Stuck not in space, but in its own assumptions. Once mystery is jettisoned, and we mortals left to our own resources, we enter a nightmare; the realm of a riddle proposed by a stone sphinx.

And for Christians, the “Mystery” Daniel pays tribute to includes the majestic transcendence of God, and God’s access as well. We are told of One who stood before Daniel, transfixed. And of One who walked among us, welcoming, healing, reconciling. Even for sake of such as ourselves, O wonderful! In Christ the mystery of evil meets its match; one almost says (say it!) is surpassed by the mystery of goodness. The tyrant is overcome, even as he wreaks death on the martyr Christ. Thus the victim becomes a witness to (among other, more sublime truths) the failure of the destroyer to destroy. The dead Man walks abroad.

A Penitent Speaks

You come toward me
prestigious in your wounds,
those frail and speechless bones.
Your credentials –
dying somberly for others.
What a burden, gratitude, fake and true vows,
crucifixes
grislier than the event –
and then the glory gap –
larger than life
begetting less than life,
pieties that strike healthy eyes
blind;
Believe! Believe! Christians
tapping down a street
in harness to their seeing eye god.
Only in solitude,
a passing tic of insight
gone as soon as granted
– I see You come toward me free,
free at last.
Can one befriend his God?
The question is inadmissable, I know.
Nonetheless a fiery recognition
lights us;
broken by life,
making our comeback.

D. B.

Long before the coming of Christ, an end is declared to the pretension and arrogance of an Antiochus. He would seize upon the end time, and in a show of domination claim it, declaring his realm as the final form of politics (mass murder, repression), and of religion (Zeus in the holy place). But: the power of the destroyer of the holy people is brought to an end. Will the tyrant take heed at last? Will he know his limits?

It bears repeating, since the matter goes to the heart of the biblical message: we humans cannot – however virtuous our striving, however noble our genius, however “progressive” our system of political amelioration or revolution – usher in the era of justice and peace known as the realm of God. Thus the plain sense of our scripture.

As for Daniel, an abrupt command is issued. It is thrice repeated. “Go on your way.” Not any way at all: not a wayward, confused detour. Rather a way that, however obscure, is guided and girded about by angels. For again, the angels are guided by another, the Man Clothed in Linen.

Faith, it would seem, has this advantage – the believer concentrates mind and heart upon means that dovetail nicely with the end, the “end time,” the “realm.” Let the seeker, like Daniel, concentrate on such means as make that stupendous advent less unlikely, less distant. Let the seeker become a seer. Let him pursue the truth through means that accommodate, welcome, befit the truth. And the seer will come to understand that the Realm nears. This because the means, like a lowly, all but invisible seed lodged in good soil, in sign and portent and hope of harvest, contain the end itself.

Finally the promise is issued: “You will take your rest, and will stand in your allotted place at the end” (Dan. 12:13). The promise of resurrection envelops Daniel in a mantle of mercy. The harshest times have probed and purified him. And found him faithful. The outcome is assured.

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Contributed By Daniel Berrigan Daniel Berrigan

A renowned poet, priest, and peace activist, Daniel Berrigan has been called “the conscience of a generation” for galvanizing opposition to war and nuclear armaments.

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