“Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.” (Daniel 6:10)
This verse marks a critical moment in Daniel’s civil disobedience. The opening phrase (“Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed…”) refers to anti-faith legislation. Once he knew that the legislation was in place, Daniel quietly and resolutely disobeyed it, continuing in the practice of his faith “as he had been doing previously.” And also, he refused to be cautious or secretive about it, but went to the roof chamber with the windows open.
The passage would seem to suggest a three-part principle of how a believer behaves towards an unjust or oppressive regime.
First, the passage suggests the principle that the time you disobey the government is when the government disobeys God. Martin Luther King claimed that “One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.” Second, that you do so straightforwardly and courageously; but (thirdly) that you ready yourself to face the consequences. Aristotle reflected that “It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen.” Troubles will come.
Martin Luther King (who did rather write the book on this one, so to speak) said that “An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law.”
Whilst it is tempting to make this analysis the central hub of the passage’s meaning, it would be wrong to do so. If it was, then the reader necessarily turns into (merely) a social activist or a political militant; and it makes social justice the endgame of all we do in the name of Jesus. But Jesus refused to be cornered in this way. When “they sought to make him king,” he slipped past the welcoming committee. When Pilate insisted on pinning down his political pretensions, he said “My kingdom is not of this world.” And when they buttonholed him about paying taxes to an unjust government, he reminded them of the duty due to a just God.
And so the heart of this passage, and Daniel’s heart-response amidst all the difficulties of political and social oppression, is contained in the phrase “He continued kneeling…”
If you can only continue kneeling then you are still in a position to wash feet, and you are still keeping your eyes fixed on God. And from that place, and no where else, you can love God and love your neighbour.
But –as Daniel was about to discover– it is also the place of the cross.