("Daniel's Answer to the King," Briton Rivière, 1890, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
Then the king gave the command, and Daniel was brought and thrown into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!” A stone was brought and laid on the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, so that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; no food was brought to him, and sleep fled from him. Then, at break of day, the king got up and hurried to the den of lions. When he came near the den where Daniel was, he cried out anxiously to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God whom you faithfully serve been able to deliver you from the lions?” Daniel then said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.” Then the king was exceedingly glad and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of harm was found on him, because he had trusted in his God. The king gave a command, and those who had accused Daniel were brought and thrown into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives. Before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces. Then King Darius wrote to all peoples and nations of every language throughout the whole world: “May you have abundant prosperity! I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people should tremble and fear before the God of Daniel: For he is the living God, enduring forever. His kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion has no end. He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth; for he has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.
A few days ago, this was the reading in the Daily Office. "Daniel and the Lions' Den" is a tried and true story many of us heard in Sunday School--a story that, as Sunday School teachers are wont to do, used to teach faith. But when one reads the whole story, there's an incredibly troubling part of the story that we don't mention to children, for obvious reasons--as a result of Daniel not being eaten by the lions, and Darius realizing his other presidents and satraps had framed Daniel, what does Darius do? He not only tosses them in the lions' den, he tosses in their wives and children!
For as long as I've known "the rest of the story," I have been incredibly upset about that. Maybe it's because if I had to be disciplined for what some of my relatives did, I could well be blogging to you from the state pen. I certainly would have lost my medical license. It plays on my gut feelings about the unfairness of "inheriting the sins of the fathers."
We also know that Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius. Didn't it bug Daniel now and then that he was prosperous, while the wives of his enemies and their children were dead? Surely he had at least a twinge of survival guilt about that. I mean, once in a while it bugs me that I make a good living off the backs of other people's tragedy. I get paid rather decently for big cancer resections. I make a decent living because people get sick and die. But ultimately, I realize I did not cause their disease, and I suppose Daniel realized it was Darius who did that, not him. I cannot be responsible for a process of disease outside my control, nor could Daniel be responsible for Darius' wrath.
But I want to chat a minute about the "real" casualties in this story--the wives and children of the mean presidents and the satraps. I think about how, in divorces, the divorced individuals have a tendency to "divvy up the friends," and some of the friends get demonized, along with the ex. Sometimes the opposite happens--one of the couple tries to "get in good" with the ex's friends to keep the spy network going, or to hurt the ex further. Or how during the divorce, how the ex's relatives get demonized right alongside the ex. I think about how in a tragic setting where someone is discovered to be a big wrongdoer, people choose scapegoats for the blame they wanted to place on the transgressor. I particularly recall years ago, at one of the local banks, how the bank president went to the pen for his personal wrongdoings, and had used his bank to "kite" checks, but even when he was convicted and was out of the picture, the bank suffered. I even knew people who told bank employees, "I don't know how you can work there and hold your head up, being part of such of a corrupt thing," and they had nothing to do with what happened. The "corrupt thing" was long over, but lots of people in Kirksville still wanted to scapegoat the bank for years afterward.
The story of the bank president is also interesting. When he got out of prison, he returned to Kirksville. He stayed in town and toughed it out, and made new friends, and changed his life in some ways. I know a lot of folks who went to his church. If you had known him as an old man, you would have thought he was simply one of those "cool little old men that all churches have one or two of," if you had not known his story. He never was able to patch everything up--no one ever is--but he found out a lot about his true self as a beloved child of God in the process. It was not "happily ever after," but I came to realize that he thought it was "happy enough."
So, yes, although I can fire up my righteous indignation at Darius in this story, I also realize I sometimes have engaged in "scapegoating by association."
I also had a situation at work recently, that involved negotiations with third parties, where I was being scapegoated by clients. Because this weird reimbursement problem was going on--that had absolutely nothing to do with their medical care at a professional level, I had people in my office telling me "I must be a bad doctor, and you Kirksville doctors are all cheats and crooks, and that's why I go to Columbia for my doctoring, blah blah, etc., etc," because of a situation where the problem was something totally unrelated to professional competence, and about the insurance company. I was accused of greed, bad citizenship, and medical incompetence, as well as being told about "my mansion and my Ferarri," while they could not afford to buy gas. (I think they would have been rather disappointed to see my house and pickup truck, actually!)
But the fact remains, we too easily scapegoat when we don't have all the facts.
There is also a place, when one has either "survival guilt," or has been the target of a scapegoating, where we have to let go of any delusions of control of "what got us here." I know when I've been the scapegoat, I have had times I have, for a spell, assumed guilt that was not mine. When this situation at work came up, I eventually realized what was going on was out of my control, and it was eventually resolved, but it took a lot of prayer and temper management for me to look at those angry people and say, "I'm sorry you feel that way, and we are willing to work with you to lower your balance owed in this way, but I can't do exactly what you want on this. I suggest you discuss this with (big insurance company) because ultimately, they made these decisions, not me."
It's so important for us to define what we can and can't control, and at the same time have compassion for those who were unfairly wronged by it. We can't control who goes in the lions' den when we are not the keeper of the lions' den. Sometimes, we even find ourselves in the lions' den because of the sins of others, and we can't even control being torn limb from limb in it, sad as that is. We can only have a God who promises to be in the den with us, and a God who can show us our own stuff that needs repair, and do the best we can.
My radical thought is to re-read this story in Daniel in a new light--the light of "what happens when we scapegoat." It's incredibly freeing when we realize we don't need a scapegoat for our own prosperity, and in the times we have been scapegoated, "it gets better," if we can be brave enough to trust things to be worked out in God's time.