“Faust, Nebuchadnezzar, & Myself” | Daniel 4:19-37 | The Second Sunday of Advent

A young man approached an old pastor one day with a question: “Pastor, I have heard it say that God wants me to love myself and be proud of everything I have done in my life. In response, the pastor told him this story:

“A certain man who owned a large trucking company went to bed one night and woke up in a dream. In the dream, he walked down a gravel road, surrounded all around by harvested corn fields. As he walked, he came to a crossroads. It was there he discovered that he was not alone. Another man stood there, as if he was waiting for him. The other man was very normal looking, aside from his crooked smile, but something in his eyes, something in his laugh, something in his voice made your skin crawl. ‘Who are you?’ he asked.

“The other man said, ‘I’ve been called, Dionysus, Bacchus, Mephistopheles, but it doesn’t matter. I have many names. But, I’ve seen you before. I know your name. I know what you want, and I can give it to you.’

“The two of them shook hands, and the man woke up.

“He went about his day as usual. He headed into his office at his trucking company. They shipped goods all around the country. In fact, his company was the second largest trucking company in the nation. In his office, he sat at his desk and turned on the television. Along the bottom of the screen, the stock ticker flowed passed and one caught his eye. It was a plummeting company. Their stock was falling fast. And he knew that company. It was his biggest rival, the largest trucking company in the world. Last night, the company had imploded on itself. They wouldn’t even be a company by the end of the year.

“The man opened his email, but he wasn’t shocked to see message after message. Companies with trucking needs were already reaching out for their business. He thought for a moment that it was the best thing that had ever happened to him. Then, his phone rang. It was another competitor of his, the third biggest trucking company in the country. He wanted a buy-out. They’d merge their companies, and he would get to remain CEO.

“At lunch, he sat down with one of his financial advisors. They were also good friends. His name was Dan. Something compelled the man to tell Dan about his dream the night before.

“‘Why did you shake hands?’ He asked.

“‘I think we made some sort of deal, but I can’t remember,’ he responded.

“‘That doesn’t sound good to me. It sounds like you wanted something, and now you’re getting it. But, what did you give in return?’ Dan said. ‘I know you had a great business day. There’s not even anyone who can compete with you in the trucking market, anymore. But, do you think it’s worth it to make shady deals with creepy men in the dark of your dreams?’

“The man looked at his friend and shrugged. His mind in its excitement had moved on. Later that day, he had a press conference to talk about his future acquisition and comment on the fall of his largest rival. He put on his best suit. He walked up to the podium. He noticed a larger group of journalists and reporters than he expected.

“‘Is not my company now the most powerful trucking company in the world? It is because of my leadership and hard work that I have grown so much. It was all because of me.’ As he spoke, he felt a sharp pain in his head. An aneurysm had burst. He slumped to the ground.

“He awoke at the crossroads from his dream. The Other Man was already there. Waiting.

“‘It was all you,’ the man said.

“The Other Man responded, ‘Oh, I can’t take all the credit. I do not rule over all things. I do what I am allowed. Heaven rules, and I don’t play for that team. And he’s not done, yet. Because of your pride and boast…’ but his words faded away.

“The man awoke in a hospital room. He was hungry. He began to eat thrash around. He heard the tearing of cloth. He began ripping pieces of his hospital gown and eating them. He swallowed as much as he could, until a nurse came in. With some help, they strapped him down. But over the next seven days, he ate part of his pillow, the bed spread, his sheets. He craved fabric and cloth. He ate no food and drank little water.

“After seven days, he woke up in the morning, but he wasn’t hungry. He wasn’t in the hospital. He was at home, laying in his bed. There had been no cross roads, no huge day for his company, no aneurysm, no time in the hospital.

“Instead, he felt sorry. He was sorry that he hadn’t acknowledged where everything he had came from. He was sorry that he focused so much on himself. He was sorry that he often took all the glory and never gave it to whom it belonged.”

When the old pastor finished his story, the young man said, “That doesn’t answer my question at all! What does God want me to do? You didn’t even mention him in the story.”

The old pastor paused and took a deep breath. From memory, he said, “His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: ‘What have you done?’ (Daniel 4:34-35). Everything you have and everything you have had the ability to do comes from God, who is over all. If you are told to love yourself, to be proud of what you have accomplished, those who told you are wrong.”

The young man responded, “But didn’t I do it? I was the one who worked hard. I was the one who put in all the effort.”

The old pastor said, “Of course, you did! And wasn’t it a privilege to use the gifts God has given you in that way? He gave them to you, and he could take them in an instant. They aren’t yours. They are under his rule.”

The young man said, “What’s left for me? If I give God the credit, then there’s nothing. I get nothing. It was meaningless. Why would I even do anything, if I can’t take the credit for it? How can I be happy with who I am? What’s the point of life?”

The old pastor paused again, and took another deep breath: “Renounce your sins and acknowledge that Heaven rules. Praise and exalt the King of Heaven. ‘Everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble’ (Daniel 4:37).  I think you have missed the point. Who cares about the credit? Can’t you see that instead of praising God, you praise yourself? Can’t you see that instead of exalting God, you exalt yourself? Can’t you see that he is able to humble you, if he wants? Even if you could trade for everything you ever wanted, success adds no value to your life. It’s going to pass away.

“The blessings of this world do not last. Satisfaction with earthly accomplishments does not last. Young man, only One lasts, and it is he who makes all others last. He is the living One, and he makes others live, too. He is the only one who can give meaning and value to something, because he is eternal. Only what is eternal has any meaning. But your heart is dead in pride. You worship yourself and not the true God. Do you know why the man begins to eat cloth? Didn’t that seem weird to you? Why does that matter to the story? Truly, it doesn’t. Pride leads men to irrational actions. They begin to treat themselves like they are gods. But, the story doesn’t matter. The storyteller does.

“Anyone who loves their accomplishments, themselves, or the things of this earth—especially their own glory and fame—can be certain they will meet someone just like the Other Man from the story. And not Jesus, the Christ, the author and perfecter of our faith. The only one who can give you a true purpose. All people should renounce their pride. Turn from your self-worship. ‘Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord’ (Acts 3:19).” The old pastor finally finished speaking.

The young man said, “I’m sorry. I do love myself too much. I hate my pride.”

The old pastor said, “I forgive you. Your sins are wiped out. Eternal life is yours. May your heart be refreshed by that fact, that God has given you true value.”

The young man paused, and sighed. “Thank you,” he said.

The old pastor responded, “I haven’t done anything. Christ has done it all.”

The young man replied, “I know. Those words were not directed at you.”

The two men met each other’s eyes before shaking hands and parting ways.

Amen.

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