Friday, May 22, 2009

Mean Mouths

My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight.

                        Daniel 6.22

When Bad People Happen Upon Good People

My brother joined our family when I was 18 months old. Despite my parents’ best efforts to prime me for this, stoking my excitement about a new brother or sister and so forth, I wasn’t the least bit happy when he finally showed up. The house flooded with people rushing to gush and coo over the baby, severely cutting into my attention. In a feat of infantile will and sleight, I bided my time until no one was watching. I toddled into the nursery and threw every ounce of strength I had against his bassinet. It crashed to the floor, tossing the defenseless baby across the room. Thankfully he wasn’t hurt, but that certainly wasn’t my intention.

Very early in life (though usually somewhat later than my brother) we learn people will dislike us for no reason. They’ll connive, attack, accuse, and challenge us without provocation. We first grasp this in the sandbox, on the playground, or anywhere else we bump into bullies. And the lesson repeats itself at every stage in life. A coworker sets traps. An in-law tells lies. A church member spreads gossip. Merely being who we are and living as we do puts us in the crosshairs of unhappy, insecure, and intolerant people. When bad people happen upon good people, their first inclination is to devise schemes to undermine them. Good people make bad people look bad, and when bad people look bad, they act bad. Good people steal thunder. Good people attract friends. Good people exemplify goodness. Good people get in bad people’s way.

The Set-Up

Daniel’s experience bears this out. He’s one of several young Jews in Babylonian exile handpicked for palace service. To get a sense of the sort of person he is, here are the job requirements: “young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve.” (Daniel 1.4) Daniel rapidly proves he’s the best of the best and climbs the palace ranks in record time. He guards his integrity fiercely and stands his ground in situations where weaker men would abandon their faith and compromise their character. God repeatedly rewards him, enabling him to outlast two corrupt kings. When the third, Darius, takes the throne, he appoints Daniel as one of three chief administrators. His prominence strafes his Babylonian colleagues. They hatch a clever plot: they’ll fix things so he’ll have to disavow his belief in God to save his job, which Daniel most definitely will not do.

The set-up goes like this. Daniel’s adversaries convince Darius to decree a 30-day devotion to him, declaring anyone who prays to any other god beside him will be tossed into a lion’s den. As expected, Daniel refuses to comply. Just before he enters the den, Darius—realizing the heinous thing he’s been duped into doing—says to him: “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” (Daniel 6.16) After a sleepless night, the king scurries to check on Daniel. “Did your God rescue you?” he calls. Daniel answers, “God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths.” Daniel is lifted out of the den and Darius throws the conspirators (along with their families) to the beasts. They’re devoured before they land on the den floor.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Like Daniel, we learn living with integrity and keeping our commitment to please our Maker will often create unwarranted conflicts with those willing to stop at nothing—and stoop to anything—to succeed. Hungry eyes and mean mouths surround us. Psalm 38.19 says, “Many are those who are my vigorous enemies; those who hate me without reason are numerous.” Descents into lion’s dens can’t be avoided, because the motives and mindsets behind these situations are beyond our control. When we find ourselves targeted for humiliation and harm, we need not worry about the outcome. We recall David’s words in Psalm 27.2: “When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.”

Instead of worrying about why we’re maligned and abused, in Matthew 5.11-12 Jesus encourages us to be happy: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kind of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” Our faith assures us of two things: God honors us when we honor Him. And when that sets us up for ridicule, criticism, and hateful comments, God shuts mean mouths.

God shuts mean mouths.

(Tomorrow: Stay)

Postscript: Weekend Gospel

Over and Over – The Thompson Community Singers

In Chicago, we call them “The Tommies”—far and away the best choir to come out of the city that gave birth to gospel. The Thompson Community Singers have been around for more than 40 years, constantly adapting their style and message to fit the times. This video is a delightful example of the irrepressible joy that pours out of everything they do. “Over and over and over, He keeps on blessing me,” they sing—and over and over and over, The Tommies have blessed audiences everywhere! Enjoy!


kkryno said...

How many times in a work situation have I been tempted to stoop to that level? More than I care to admit. I've had many occasions to return the barbs, and done so; but many times did not.

I feel horrible to have done that type of thing because it means pride has come into play; then shame immediately follows. I just have to remember that looking myself in the mirror every morning is the true test: that and the knot in my gut that lets me know I have let myself, others; and ultimately Him down.

Even in typing this, I feel the enormous sense of the hurt that kind of action can impart upon another human being. The thought of it brings a sorrowful flush to my face.

Anytime one tears someone down in order to "elevate" themselves in other peoples' eyes; it's a colossal fail.

I've finally got that one. (I hope!)


Tim said...

Hey, Vikki! You're spot-on. When we're surrounded by criticism and people who tear down others, it's so easy to fall into that behavior. And if we do, it IS a colossal fail.

You add a vital layer to the story--sometimes the "mean mouths" that need shutting are our own! Thank you for helping me get that (I hope!) ;-)

Have a great holiday. I know you're loving the sunshine and warmth up in the Klondike!

Blessings always,