by Rob Tims
“We’re going to hell in a handbasket.”
I picked up this phrase from adults in my hometown in northwest Mississippi. I found the alliteration to be fun (an early warning sign of my nerdiness), but as I’ve aged, I’ve come to appreciate the imagery even more. Handbaskets conjure visions of leisurely hikes through temperate forests on care-free springs afternoons. What isn’t going well in those visions? And therein lies the point of the phrase: we think all is well, when in actuality, all is on its way to being lost.
I recently heard a co-worker say that some American Christians think America is Israel (that is, a nation with special relationship with God), while others see the decline of our culture and think America is more like Babylon (that is, we’re going to hell in a handbasket). Neither is probably true.
Nevertheless, we do have much to learn from the Bible when it comes to living as a Christian when our cultures seems to be in a handbasket bound for hell. Consider Daniel 6.
The story picks up with Daniel prospering under Persian rule. He was one of three administrators over the 120 districts within his jurisdiction, and was so successful that he aroused the jealousy of other administrators and officials. Knowing that Daniel was loyal to God, they devised a plot by which they hoped to have him executed for treason. They convinced Darius the King to issue a decree commanding his subjects to worship him exclusively for one month. When Daniel defied the decree and openly prayed to the Lord, the conspirators reported him. Realizing he had been tricked, Darius tried to absolve Daniel of guilt; but that royal decree could not be altered.
Thus, Daniel was thrown to the lions. A stone was placed over the entrance to the den, and the king sealed it with his own ring so that it might not be disturbed. After a long, restless night Darius returned to the den in the morning, and, to his amazement, Daniel was still alive. Daniel explained that the Lord had miraculously preserved him by closing the lions’ mouths. The king ordered that Daniel be lifted from the den and then had his accusers thrown in. The King then issued an official statement praising Daniel’s God as the sovereign Lord of the universe, who miraculously delivers His servants.
From this story, I see three takeaways for living in a culture headed to hell in a handbasket: we must not separate ourselves from the culture or assimilate into the culture. Rather, we must illuminate onto the culture. Daniel made the most of his captivity and employment. He modeled excellence. When everyone around him led lives in open hostility to his own convictions, Daniel maintained his convictions and let them guide him toward excellence in his every-day work. He didn’t flee his culture, but immersed himself in it so that he could make an impact.
Babylon was well on its way to hell in a handbasket, but Daniel’s faith shone a light into an otherwise dark and dismal culture. And he did it without compromise, as can we. Don’t separate. Don’t assimilate. Rather, illuminate.
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.