The mere fact that everyone is obsessed at present with failed policies and bad government is proof that the Lord has our attention. What people need right now is to think about their status before their maker. We are all soon to die even if Covid-19 doesn’t make the death certificate. What people need right now, as Paul did with the Athenians, is to know that there is “fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man [Jesus Christ] whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Throughout this Covid-19 ordeal, I have found myself as a wanderer, some would say “tottering between two opinions.” I can’t agree with those huddled in their homes in fear and who barricade their faces while driving down the road. That’s their prerogative, and I don’t judge them for it, but it’s hard for me to think of someone (not at risk) tucked away in their home, refusing all people, while the San Diego county supervisor says there are only six pure Covid-19 deaths out of a whopping 3.3 million. Does that make sense to anyone? I feel lied to, often.
On the opposite end, I loathe the behavior of the bad boy, rebellious culture-warrior that I see all day “online”. I really struggle reading of pastors who have unilaterally decided (whatever happened to elders?) to defy their governor and open up their churches. Does this kind of boldness of civil disobedience against governing authorities really demonstrate the righteousness of God? I know, the constitutional issue is a big one. Yes, I am concerned about government overreach, totalitarianism, and tyranny. I am truly concerned for people’s livelihoods right now. I definitely stand for constitutional freedom and believe we have a right to properly appeal to the governing authorities when rights are violated. With regard to the church, if it’s a clear Acts 5:29 moment, things will be different. But are things really so clear for anyone at the moment?
I expect some amount of government overreach in moments of uncharted territory—this is, after all, why we have a functioning DOJ. Granted (back to the other viewpoint again) this is not making sense to me, at all. The numbers do not add up. Yet, are we really prepared to say that what “Christians” are facing in being banned from worship is the same as Christians in Communist China? I’m not convinced, and I know we shouldn’t make these comparisons for the sake of those who are actually dying for their stances on the gospel. And I’m still wondering why, especially in California, if this virus is no big deal, the largest national idol of sports is shoved to the back in phase four, behind the opening of churches. Maybe this is a reason? That should make us pause for a moment since even Mike Trout is striking out right now (can you believe it?); maybe it’s not, after all, so directly an attack on us?
To make matters worse, by some I am considered not quite as smart or educated since, I am told, I am too prone to intuition, upbringing, and not science. By others (especially by those in the mountains who drive 4X4 trucks and have shotguns), I am considered to be a coward, a wimp, compromised and rebelling because I am not opening my church. By the way, I’m a Southern CA boy and I too like red meat, and I own both a Bronco and a shotgun—too much testosterone, I know, but I hate being called a wimp. Oh, and I should say I am a science fan too. While I am definitely concerned with government overreach and have to fight serious internal anger over the abuses, I am also concerned to let the professionals do their work. I don’t claim to be an economist, politician, epidemiologist, or expert on much of anything outside of my calling to show people their most important need which is not, by the way, a vaccine for the virus nor constitutional freedom. I offer something far greater than both.
I suspect that most people reading this feel as I do, caught in the middle of this mess, but as the polarization grows, you are not quite sure what to do as the culture wants to box you in to one of these two categories—either as ignorant or compromised. Both sides have their heroes emerging and the charisma of these voices expressing either pride or anger is impressive. I do know the shared emotion of fear is governing both sides (including me), one group giving themselves to hide and the other to expose their contrarian impulses, and both are too misplaced for me to align with these ideals as solutions.
A “Here I Stand” Moment?
I’ve rambled enough, so allow me to provide why my perspective is somewhat different.
What I tried to capture above is my own confusion, a microcosm of the macrocosm in the bewilderment of what people are experiencing. When something comes upon us of this magnitude and this much confusion follows, becoming more insurmountable as each day passes, to the possible ruining of society, it should cause everyone to enter a time of serious spiritual reflection. Yet, I see very little of that right now.
What we have taken for granted is that any amount of peace we enjoy in society and reasonableness of leadership that makes harmony possible is not an automatic right in this life. Mutual harmony that makes living together possible is evidence that another government over earthly governments is exercising common benevolence to us.
This was the apostle Paul’s appeal to the Athenians on Mars Hill. In the midst of great idolatry, along with political and economic confusion, Paul introduced the people to “the God who made the world and everything in it as Lord over everything in it.” Paul gave a masterful speech on creation and providence, explaining to the Athenians that the Lord is the ruler of this world, and that the ability to live in this world, to enjoy the freedom to walk about in a city, and to dwell in certain places is all sovereignly determined by him. He said just what the Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 10 says, “God upholds heaven and earth, and all creatures and so rules them that without his will they can neither move nor be moved…prosperity and famine, health and sickness, in fact all things come to us not by chance by from his fatherly hand.”
This is why I struggle finding a place in our current chaos. God has always exercised the prerogative to give or take freedoms away. In fact, Paul also says that we are appointed to die, which means all of our freedoms are soon coming to an end at our God-appointed deaths. Sometimes, God shakes the nations to make people realize this before it is too late. This is a mercy of the Lord toward a greater end.
Maybe we have too much confused earthly blessings with the coming of his kingdom. Yet, in no verse of Scripture are Christians promised freedom from persecution, injustice, or suffering in this life. In fact, we were told in advance that persecution and suffering would mark our way. This does not condemn political appeal or action, or speaking against injustices when abuses are present, but we are to recognize that our “ability to live and move” or not to move (just ask Joni Erickson Tada) are chosen by God for us, for a greater end. If God decides to send a shutdown of our life, our body and, yes, even our freedoms through the secondary causes of government, the Christian must believe there is a much bigger issue at hand than us. There is a lost dying world of people right now who need to understand what is most important in life and death. Haven’t believers always been called to the loss of all things for the sake of Christ?
The mere fact that everyone is obsessed at present with failed policies and bad government is proof that the Lord has our attention. What people need right now is to think about their status before their maker. We are all soon to die even if Covid-19 doesn’t make the death certificate. What people need right now, as Paul did with the Athenians, is to know that there is “fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man [Jesus Christ] whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” The resurrection of Christ has made a profound claim on humanity’s allegiances. The gospel of the resurrection of Christ is the only answer in the midst of our chaos. This is the real passion people need to see from the people of the risen king.
Jesus told at times that he would test the whole world to prove who lives by his word (see Rev. 3:10). Christian need to lead people to the one who will bring in a kingdom of true righteousness. Most of what we are seeking now comes in its proper time at Christ’s return. The greatest need for people presently is the forgiveness of sins.
Yes, when you signed up for Christianity, you agreed that prison and suffering for righteousness sake might be God’s choice for you toward this Great Commission goal. If you are privileged enough to suffer for Christ’s name, through injustice or what have you, God might even throw you in prison against your “Roman” constitutional rights, so that, with chains around your neck, you might bring salvation to a jailor and his family. Yes, God has the right to throw everything into chaos for a greater end, and he doesn’t need a variety of different kinds of saviors wrapped up in all the wrong causes.
As D.A. Carson reminds us,
If God had perceived that our greatest need was economic, he would have sent an economist. If he had perceived that our greatest need was entertainment, he would have sent us a comedian or an artist. If God had perceived that our greatest need was political stability, he would have sent us a politician. If he had perceived that our greatest need was health, he would have sent us a doctor. But he perceived that our greatest need involved our sin, our alienation from him, our profound rebellion, our death; and he sent us a Savior.
Relief from this present chaos comes, ultimately, in the Lord’s time (Ecc. 3). Just as the Lord sends sunshine and rain, he also “makes wars to cease to the ends of the earth “(Ps 46:9). Heaven will be taken by storm not with fear or sword, not with the political agendas of this world, but with the gospel of the kingdom. Stand in this good news of Christ and him crucified before the world, with joy and confidence, dear Christian, and you will always be on the right side of the issue.
Chris Gordon is Preaching Pastor at the Escondido United Reformed Church in Escondido, Calif. This article is used with permission