Fewer Prideful Talking Points. More Humble Questioning.
A doodle by Skye Jethani from his book What if Jesus was Serious?
I wrote a variation of this blog post in mid-October, and I did not post it because while I fervently stand by what I wrote then and what I am about to write now, my spirit was not one of humility. But today, I am in a place where I am aware both of my own spiritual poverty and my privilege as a middle-class white person interpreting a sacred and divine text, that while still wholly applicable, was not written for me alone in western culture in 2021.
I am saying that because there are a lot of people in my feeds that are just so darn sure of themselves. So sure that their way is the way. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in absolute truths (those of you who just clutched your pearls and gasped and what you assumed would be a diatribe about how moral relativism is good). That is not what this is. Read to the end before you jump ship. :)
I just want to honestly hold up what many white, evangelicals are putting out into the world as gospel truth to the actual gospel of Christ. The issues that are dividing us might not be as divisive if we take them captive to what the Word of God actually says.
I want to dig into the prevalent trend of using fear to manipulate. I am seeing a lot of this: “You shouldn’t be afraid of COVID. You don’t need to wear a mask because God will be faithful and protect you. You don’t need to be afraid of racism because we had a black president once. No need to worry about sharing the grace and mercy of Christ because some people are just too wicked to get it.” Also this: “Be afraid of the left. Be afraid of losing your liberty and freedom. Listen to conspiracy theories. Be afraid of immigrants and refugees. Be afraid of “the end times.” Be afraid that you won’t have ammo for your guns. Be afraid of science. Be afraid of anyone who dares to think differently than you.”
Again, maybe I am way off the mark, but almost daily I read the Bible and then later stumble upon what some Christians are posting online, and I am forced to wonder if we are reading from the same book. There are quite a few hypocrisies these days. I speak as one who has been a hypocrite.
For example, I do not wear a mask because I am afraid or because I am a sheep, nor do I feel it a hindrance to my freedom. God is sovereign, and if I am supposed to get sick, then I will. Nowhere in the Bible do I find God promising good health to those who just believe hard enough. In fact, I see the opposite of that (i.e. Job to name one). I am not an actual scientist, but I feel like the mask thing just makes sense on a lot of levels both from a health perspective and courtesy to my neighbor perspective.
Maybe you are right, and the cloth masks we wear are not the end-all-be-all. Maybe the message about masks in the media hasn’t always been super clear or consistent, but nothing about a new, global pandemic is easy or straightforward especially in the beginning. Do I think paired with distance, they can reduce the viral load someone takes in if I am sick and don’t know it? Yes, I do. Will that help people be less symptomatic or less ill? I think the data (and common sense) suggests that. I think it also suggests that the more people that do wear them, like say at a little kids' indoor basketball game in a church gym, the better they work. Do I think the Bible supports me trying not to get other people sick? Yup. Jesus came to heal and more than just the physical stuff (Isaiah 61 and Luke 4).
I do not understand the fallacy that sacrificing for other people means I am conceding every single one of my beliefs. It is flawed logic to go from agreeing to wear a mask to now I am a puppet of a liberal government. The same people who won’t wear a mask will wear a seatbelt or make their kids wear a seatbelt or pay a ticket for not wearing one. What is the difference? Seatbelts are for your safety and masks are for others? Because the news told you to, so you won’t? The desire to listen to conspiracy theorists who have been wrong countless times rather than actual people (i.e. scientists and doctors) whose job it is to understand the complicated nuances of a very real disease is shocking to me. Question what you hear. Sure. But don’t make hard decisions on speculation or hunches, and definitely don’t make judgments on other people if they don’t agree with your suspicion.
But really the “you shouldn’t have to wear a mask” is but a symptom of a deeper issue. The verse about listening to what our itching ears want to hear goes both ways (2 Timothy 4:3). Remember the Pharisees? The religious people during Jesus’s time also conflated theology with their political agenda. They wanted a powerful king to right the wrongs done to them. Their pride caused them to miss King Jesus born in a humble manger. It is possible for “good” people to be so blind to their desires and beliefs that they completely miss the mark. Spoiler alert: it didn’t end well for them.
Romans 12:18 says: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Essentially, doing something easy like wearing a mask if the trade-off is peace with and love for my neighbor? Doesn’t seem like it should be the big issue it has become when there are legitimate wrongs to right. The peace referenced in Romans is Holy Spirit peace...that which transcends understanding. The same peace that allowed Jesus to endure a cross to save us. I am just not seeing much of that from Christians today, and what is more egregious is that people who don’t have a personal relationship with Jesus can see it too.
I am not afraid of being lumped in with racists because I have been one. I don’t bristle at the words Black Lives Matter because they do. We can not be double-minded on life. All are made in the image of Christ (Genesis 1:27). The unborn, yes! But equally so, black and brown and refugee and immigrant and the poor and the marginalized.
I have been blind to my privilege, and I have been unaware and uneducated for far too long. I am not afraid of facing and addressing sin because I have given my whole heart to a Savior who has redeemed me. I should not worry about being held accountable especially since I believe that is where true growth and fruit are produced. I see David’s response in Psalm 51, and I can understand that admitting wrong is actually right. It is again not a concession to the “other side.” It is not weakness. It is true strength. Some of ya’ll love to quote Paul. How about this one: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).
It’s the whole plank in my eye/speck in my neighbor’s eye conundrum (Matthew 7:15). One of the marks of a disciple of Christ is being able and willing to examine ourselves and taking every thought captive to His Word (2 Corinthians 10:5) before we worry about our [fill in the blank with whatever negative word you are currently thinking] neighbor. If we are afraid to face the truth of our own depravity, we must ask ourselves why? Why is acknowledging systemic wrongs and our explicit or implicit part in them so difficult? Are we afraid of the equality the Bible talks about (Galatians 3:28)? Do we think we will lose something? Power? Pride? I’m asking because I can’t wrap my head around being unable or unwilling to repent when there is a Savior who brings grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Are we denying the power of the cross of Christ? There is no revival without repentance...only passive wrath. I do not want to be left unchecked in my sin.
I am also not living in fear of calamitous events happening. The doomsday messages that I remember hearing after another democrat entered office 12 years ago never happened, and the speculation masquerading as truth would be laughable if so many people weren’t duped or hurt by them. The Bible is clear that no one knows the end (Matthew 24:36), and because we are not God, thinking we know based on conflating our notions of politics with our individual interpretation of scripture is short-sighted and prideful. I also don’t understand the dissonance of Christian both longing for Christ’s return AND being terrified of it in such a way that they would try to “stop” it by voting a certain way (as if that is a thing you can know and do) and stock-piling survival items to protect and defend yourself (also not Biblical-Matthew 6:24). It isn’t compatible thinking, and it is displacing energy better served loving and reaching others for Christ (which is very much all over the Bible).
In addition, I think the Bible is straight-up clear that suffering is a part of the Christian life, and suffering well (there is a distinction) is a part of our walk with and witness for Christ. We are to embrace suffering because it produces good fruit within us (Romans 5:3-5 and James 1:2-4). We are not (anywhere that I can find) called to kick and claw and yell and lie and deceive our way out of it.
However, I feel like now is a good time to remind everyone that being held accountable for wrongs committed is not the same as suffering. Being a follower of a losing political candidate does not make one a martyr.
God has made a precedent of working through hard and terrible times to bring repentance and revival. The exile in Babylon revealed the idolatry in God’s people and that led to their repentance and revival...not anger and a need to defend a flawed stance.
When faced with actual suffering, one who has their eyes on Jesus will retain a soft heart. Where we can say in the storm, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21). We are not called to live in comfort or accumulate “mammon” (earthly treasure- Matthew 6:24). We are not called to insulate ourselves from any sort of pain. We serve a God who was acquainted with our every grief (Isaiah 53:3). We are called to take up our cross and follow Him (Matthew 16:24)...not our “Don’t tread on me” flag. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is not a sentiment of the Bible, and I don’t understand why we treat that as gospel. We are to have life and life abundant THROUGH Christ DESPITE our circumstances (John 10:10). We are called not to worry about tomorrow knowing that our daily bread is provided (Matthew 6).
I am trying not to take the bait, friends. I am trying not to let what I see from brothers and sisters on the internet steal my joy or rob my peace. Some days are easier than others because I love God and The Church (despite the mess we’ve made). But we have to do better because we’ve got a job to do, and I think most, including those on the outside looking in, would say we aren’t doing it well. There is more on the line than political power.
So we need some reminders to get back on track: I remind myself (and you) that God loves The Church, His Word, and humanity more than I do, and He isn’t wringing His hands worried about how it will turn out. I remind myself (and you) that God doesn’t need a defense attorney. We are to live our lives in a way that glorifies Him, but it is not our responsibility to save people (especially in ranting FB posts- I pray humbling that I don’t fall in this category). I remind myself (and you) that we do have a responsibility to others to represent Christ in the most accurate, truthful, and loving ways. Salt and light (Matthew 5:13-16). I remind myself (and you) that our fight is “not against flesh and blood but against the evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against spirits in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). I remind myself (and you) that it is not enough to have “a spirit of godliness but deny its power” (2 Timothy 3:5). I remind myself (and you) about the pervasive yeast of the Pharisees (Luke 12:1-3) and how wolves can masquerade as sheep (Matthew 7:15). I remind myself (and you) that we are called to the faith of a child (Mark 10:13-16)...receiving from the Father with an open heart and hand. We need to relax the clenched fists and get back to the heart of God’s Word.
Pray now that these scriptures would take root. Reject the accusations and lies that might bubble to the surface. Reject the need to defend self. Be a hearer and a doer of the Word (James 1:22-25). If you fear, only fear (be in awe of and submission to) the Lord. That is the path to wisdom (Proverbs 9:10) and healing. He is who we answer to. Not a political leader or party. Jesus has always and will always be on the throne. Are we living like we believe it?
Further Questions for Self-examination:
- Do my beliefs and the way I share them bring others closer to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? Or the opposite?
- Have I taken my thoughts captive to His Word? Am I testing every spirit? Including those I really want to be true?
- Before I post something online have I asked myself what my motive is and if that motive is in line with Jesus’s example?
- Have I assigned any attributes to God that are not true?
- Have I assigned any attributes to myself that are not true?
- Am I living out the fruit of the spirit? What evidence do I have in my life?
- Am I living out the Beatitudes? What evidence do I have in my life?
- Are there any areas in my life where I have been self-serving? Thinking of my needs/wants before God and others?
- Am I in the Word more than I am watching/reading biased news sources?
- How am I serving the least of these and washing feet?
- Am I a person who can acknowledge good in a Samaritan or Roman Centurion-someone who isn’t like me and might believe differently than I do?
- Who/what am I afraid of? Why?
- Do I have a healthy fear of the Lord?
- Do I acknowledge that only God is God? Are my words few because I am a mere person with but a thimble full of God’s wisdom?
- Do I know who I am really fighting against?
- Do conjecture and fear-mongering bring God glory? Is there anything I believe as truth that isn’t based in fact, reality, the Word?
- Do I ask God to reveal idolatry within my heart?
- Am I seeking first my comfort or His kingdom?
- Am I disqualifying an image-bearer of Christ simply because they voted a certain way?
- Am I humbly addressing my own sin?
- Am I only viewing myself as the Biblical good guy? Or have I made a practice of imagining myself as the villain in the narrative?
- Do I understand the context of the scriptures I use? Are they for me alone, America, or are they referencing Israel?
- What contemplative practices are present in my life (i.e silent prayer, fasting, meditating on scripture, honoring the Sabbath, etc.)?