Motivated by both faith and fitness, today many protestant Christians around the country are, like Daniel, occasionally limiting themselves to fruits and vegetables for 21-day increments. Several such believers told The Atlantic that while their intention for the initial fast was simply to enter a period of Lent-like self-denial in deference to their Lord, they have since found that the fast broke a life-long pattern of unhealthy eating and seems to have set them on a course toward better nutrition even after the 21 days ended. Now, a longer-term version of the Daniel fast is being promoted by the California-based Saddleback Church, the seventh-largest church in the U.S.
This is a big deal. My own church does this at the beginning of the Gregorian calendar year (I make this distinction because, if they really want to go all out, they’d synch it with the Jewish calendar). The one thing that has always bothered me about this is that it is characterised as a fast. I don’t think that is deserves that characterisation and I don’t think the Scriptures warrant that characterisation either.
It’s good to go back to the incident where Daniel and his companions “invented” the discipline:
And the king appointed them a daily provision of the king’s meat, and of the wine which he drank: so nourishing them three years, that at the end thereof they might stand before the king. Now among these were of the children of Judah, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: Unto whom the prince of the eunuchs gave names: for he gave unto Daniel the name of Belteshazzar; and to Hananiah, of Shadrach; and to Mishael, of Meshach; and to Azariah, of Abednego. But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank: therefore he requested of the prince of the eunuchs that he might not defile himself. Now God had brought Daniel into favour and tender love with the prince of the eunuchs. And the prince of the eunuchs said unto Daniel, I fear my lord the king, who hath appointed your meat and your drink: for why should he see your faces worse liking than the children which are of your sort? then shall ye make me endanger my head to the king. Then said Daniel to Melzar, whom the prince of the eunuchs had set over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, Prove thy servants, I beseech thee, ten days; and let them give us pulse to eat, and water to drink. Then let our countenances be looked upon before thee, and the countenance of the children that eat of the portion of the king’s meat: and as thou seest, deal with thy servants. So he consented to them in this matter, and proved them ten days. And at the end of ten days their countenances appeared fairer and fatter in flesh than all the children which did eat the portion of the king’s meat. Thus Melzar took away the portion of their meat, and the wine that they should drink; and gave them pulse. (Daniel 1:5-16 KJV)
One of the big problems that Daniel and his friends would have had with the king’s food was that it was not prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary laws. (Kinda like that boneless ham that WalMart tried to sell in California for Hanukkah…) That includes both the prohibition of pork and other meats and the requirement that any meat be absent of blood. Doubtless the Babylonians did not follow this. The simplest way to get this done was to eschew meats altogether, and that’s the way that Daniel called the eunuch’s bluff on this. It worked.
It’s noteworthy, however, that the Scriptures are not concise on what Daniel’s diet really was, other than vegetarian. Did it really, like the Mormons, prohibit caffeine? (Hardly: the ship taking those first worthies in the Book of Mormon had already sailed for America…) The connection between what Daniel and his friends ate and what we’re told is “from the throne room” in the Daniel Fast isn’t precise. And, most importantly of all, the “Daniel Fast” cannot be characterised as a fast any more than observing the dietary requirements of the Law. (Whether it was God’s intention that we be vegetarians from the start is one I address here, and it’s a popular piece, too.)
The core problem that the Daniel Diet addresses is simple: Evangelicals, on the whole, eat too much and much of what we eat isn’t good for us. That’s especially true since the centre of Evangelical Christianity has shifted to the South, and that gets us into the alcohol business. We’ve tried to make a deal with God on this: we’ll dry out (and get away from some our other destructive practices) if you’ll overlook gluttony as a sin. Unfortunately it’s getting to the point where our swelling waistlines are making it hard for God to overlook much of anything.
The health benefits of a regimen such as the Daniel Diet are undeniable. And, if can clear our bodies and minds out, we can spend more time looking upward than downward. But it’s not a fast.