Songs in a Pandemic - Part 2, Ancient of Days
(This is a continuing series of posts regarding how Christians deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, using the medium of music to interact with the topic of Christian perspective. See Part 1 here.)
As we continue in our coronavirus lockdown (currently at day 15), I am constantly reading news stories from myriad sources and from quite literally all across the world. Some of this continual inundation with news is helpful, but many times it is not (maybe the topic of a later post?). Be that as it may, there are many things to reflect on as we read about how countries and communities are dealing with the pandemic, what the latest unforeseen ramifications of lockdowns are, what the next disastrous economic news is, how this is impacting families, etc, etc, etc. The news is non-stop. But one recurring theme keeps coming up in my mind as I try to digest the volumes of information coming at me from all sides: and that is to marvel at how suddenly and quickly our entire global system has come to a screeching halt.
What was unfathomable mere weeks ago, is reality today. The most interconnected society ever to exist is suddenly disconnected; not just countries, not just cities, but even down to individual families in single homes are cut off from the world around them. The globalized, connected, free-trading economic system in which we have operated for the better part of a century is no mere accident, but was, in large part, created by the Western Powers in the aftermath of the two World Wars. In an effort to avoid death and destruction and war, these nations put mechanisms in place to draw every region and country of the world into closer economic union (even social and political union, such as the European Union). The idea was that the closer we all were, the more interdependent the world system was, it followed that there would be more prosperity and less war, less death. And by almost any measure, they succeeded. Most of us today cannot fathom a social and economic structure different from what we have, one that is so connected that communication, travel, goods and even economic prosperity itself are available to most everyone in the world. The system is so pervasive and present, like a fish not able to comprehend that it is wet, we don’t even know how to imagine a different system in which to operate.
And so we are shocked when the system comes to a halt, comes crashing down even. The framework in which we move and operate has been fundamentally challenged and altered. We assumed, probably unintentionally, that this was supposed to last forever. We didn’t know that a microscopic organism would be the thing that changed everything. We didn’t even know that everything could change. We were confident and comfortable in our system, cocky even. There’s no way our kingdom could crash. As one author put it recently, “Civilisation breeds hubris.”
But even a cursory remembrance of history should cause us to pause and reflect on the state of our seemingly all-powerful system. Empires and kingdoms have come and gone like the waves crashing on a beach. We need only mention their names and we remember that they were once great, but no longer exist. The civilizations of Egypt, Babylon, Assyria. The empires of the Greeks, the Romans, the Inca, the Maya, the Mongols, the Ottomans, the British. Even the more modern idea of the nation-state doesn’t last forever – think of Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, East Germany. All those kings and emperors, all those millions of people, once thought that their system would never fall.
I was recently reading a fascinating book called The Lost City of the Monkey God, which was about the discovery and exploration of a previously unknown civilization in the dense jungles of Honduras. It is quite clear now that in time past there was a strong and developed people and culture deep in the rainforest. They were likely contemporary with and trading partners with the more powerful Maya empire to their west and north. The “Mosquitia” civilization (that is actually the name of the rainforest: archeologists have yet to discover what the people may have called themselves), would have clearly been several hundred thousand people strong. And yet, until the just a few years ago, we didn’t even know they ever existed. What was once a strong and vibrant people had been likely wiped out by (ironically enough) plague and disease and now the rainforest has taken over to such an extent that to the naked eye, the Mosquitia seems to have never existed. I was stuck with the thought that for those hundreds of thousands of people, the idea would have been unfathomable that their entire culture would not only collapse, but that so complete would be their destruction that for the next 400 years, no one knew they ever even existed. Douglas Preston, the author of the book, closes with these haunting words:
“No civilization has survived forever. All move toward dissolution, one after the other, like waves of the sea falling upon the shore. None, including ours, is exempt from the universal fate.”
These are serious and rather depressing words. But for the Christian, we must be honest and say: They are true. At least in regard to earthly, man-created civilizations. But we must be equally quick and resolute to also say: Yes, earthly kingdoms will rise and fall, but ultimately, we know that we serve an everlasting King, who reigns forever. We serve One who has been on the throne from before time and will be reigning long after our system collapses. And it is this thought that takes me to a wonderful recent song by the group CityAlight. I hope you will watch and listen, reading along (the text in full is below and also in the video).
This is Ancient of Days.
Though the nations rage, kingdoms rise and fall
There is still one King reigning over all
So I will not fear for this truth remains:
That my God is, the Ancient of Days
None above Him, none before Him
All of time in His hands
For His throne it shall remain and ever stand
All the power, all the glory
I will trust in His name
For my God is, the Ancient of Days
Though the dread of night overwhelms my soul
He is here with me, I am not alone
O His love is sure, and He knows my name
For my God is, the Ancient of Days
Though I may not see what the future brings
I will watch and wait for the Saviour King
Then my joy complete standing face to face
In the presence of the Ancient of Days
There is so much here in this song that we could talk about. The first verse fits so wonderfully with what we’ve been discussing, helping us remember that no matter the ups and downs of our fallen world, the Ancient of Days still remains enthroned. Verse two brings the listener down from the bird’s eye view, right down into the depths of one’s own heart. There is indeed dread in our souls at times. Life in this fallen world is not easy. But we need not be overwhelmed; the Ancient of Days knows our name, He is with us. The final verse looks ahead, into a future that we cannot see in full. But as Corrie Ten Boom has said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” The Ancient of Days has the future under control. And one day, when we will stand face to face with our Saviour, all will have been made right, and these afflictions will indeed seem “light and momentary” (2 Cor 4:17). But it is the chorus that perhaps orients us most helpfully. If none are above Him, none before Him, if all of time is in His hands, if His throne will remain forever, what other response can we have but to simply trust? To worship? To rest?
But without doubt, the best part of this song is not only that is it thoroughly biblical in theme, but it is based on explicit texts. Most especially Daniel 7, where Daniel is given a vision of the coming Son of Man, who we know is Jesus Himself (this was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself). Notice what it says:
13 “I saw in the night visions,
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
The Son of Man comes to the Ancient of Days, the Creator God Himself, the One who reigns from everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2). The Son of Man receives from the Ancient of Days dominion and a kingdom. And unlike all the other kingdoms of this world, which inevitably fail, this kingdom that will never end, one that can never be destroyed. We serve a better King, an everlasting King, who rules over a sure kingdom, one that is not susceptible to virus and disease, that cannot be brought down by war or violence. This is our future, to rest securely with our King in His kingdom.
But notice why the Ancient of Days gives dominion to the Son of Man. So that all other kingdoms, all peoples and nations, would serve Him. The Kingdom is given because the God that gives it is on mission to redeem people from every nation. This is why in Matthew 28:18-20, when Jesus gives his Great Commission to go make disciples of every nation, He bases that task on his own authority. He grounds the order to go on the fact that He has dominion and an everlasting kingdom already in His possession.
So, Christian, our task remains. Regardless of the rise and fall of our earthly kingdoms, even if (or when) our own system is fundamentally changed, and the world that we will know in the coming weeks is different from everything we’ve ever known before , we serve an everlasting God, One who has given to His Son of Man, Jesus Christ, a kingdom that will never end. So we need not fear, we need only trust. And in that trusting, we go (even if that going looks different right now). We tell. We compel those who have not heard the gospel to believe in Jesus. And one day, we will stand face to face, together with an innumerable multitude of the redeemed from every people and nation (Revelation 7:9-12), in the presence of the Ancient of Days.