There are times when I listen to a speech or sermon; even read an article, and I find parts of the message which are inconsistent appear clear to me. Inconsistencies within an article on the components of a spiritually filled life, such as trust in God for all things has been troubling me. The article was all about trust and how we can completely, totally rely on God, the magnificent Creator. Yet, I look around at our society with the folks, those who claim a Christian faith, so terrified about being without a mask, searching for places to get their vaccine and even churches still doing only parking lot services and I am deeply concerned. I was beside myself! (Not literally, that would have been a violation of the six foot rule!)
I thought, who are we trusting? Is it God who created our bodies with our amazing immunity and a protection system of skin and noses with membranes and cells designed to stop infection or were we trusting some politician who was told something by someone, not a believer in Christ? We must not be trusting God because now we wear man-made masks not designed to prevent infection. Instead, these masks are more likely to hold onto germs and nasty things in the air so we can breathe them directly into our own lungs? It is not possible to believe what was being taught and rely on masks which are proven to do more harm than good. That was where I came down on the question. How would God respond to such a lack of faith? I began to chew on the spiritual questions here. Realizing that at least more than once in my life I have been wrong about something, I decided I needed to think and pray this through.
When it comes to the issues with COVID, I know all the data, the 99.5 plus percent that survive COVID, the numbers of people who are affected even worse by the flu, those mostly at risk being over 70 years of age, same as the flu. I was pretty certain I was on the correct side of the issue. We trust God, toss the masks, and get our churches open and running!
Then, Matthew 7:3-5 hit me like a wooden spike right through the eyes.
Years ago, my doctoral dissertation was titled, “In Times of Crisis: A Plan for Creating Contingency Management Teams in Missionary Sending Churches and Agencies.” Based on scriptural truth including the work of Nehemiah in rebuilding the temple with workmen and armed protectors working side by side, the entire concept is that God gives us the tools and ability to help ourselves while at the same time being completely in charge of all events in our lives. Our natural fears which prevent us from stepping in front of a train are part of God’s survival system for us. With the violence in our world and because of my experience as a police officer, now retired, I carry a firearm every day, everywhere. It provides me the capability of intervening on behalf of those at risk of serious harm. There are people within certain church circles who would say (and have said directly to me) that my contingency planning and other preparations are hypocritical. They say, God is in charge of all things so any preparation on our part is a sign of not trusting in Him. One mission agency leader staunchly opposed my arguments for preparation, and made his opinion quite clear. (Anyone who says Baptists don’t ‘ex-communicate’ don’t know how some organizations work!)
It was time for me to really get down into the desert and wrestle this one out. I already have severe hip pain so, here we go! Where is the line between using the tools God has given us to prepare and protect ourselves and others and ‘letting go and let God’?
I still maintain the truth worked out within my dissertation is correct. God is in charge of all things. The day we are to die is known to Him before we are born, as is every day of our life. From before time began He knew this of us. Nothing is outside His control. He also gives us the ability to protect ourselves and others. If this weren’t so, we would have no need of police. Jesus taught in some instances to go prepared for whatever might come and other times He instructed His disciples to go and allow God to provide completely for them. I believe God has given us gifted physicians and surgeons, researchers, and care-givers. God still determines our length of days, but these gifted persons help us preserve our quality of life, if not our quantity. The planning by Nehemiah was with God’s favor and the use of armed men guarding the workers was prudent because of the risk. Could God have totally protected them? Of course. Most often, particularly in today’s economy, He chooses to work through humans, often Christians. Could the guards have also been a ‘Linus VanPelt security blanket’ to ease the minds of those under the threats and with God’s approval? I believe the answer to that is also, ‘yes’.
So, what about the masks and opening services? I passionately believe they should be open and, if anyone feels the need to wear a mask, whether because of age or illness, they should do so without any awkward stares from folks who suddenly judge themselves as ‘more spiritual’ because they are ‘simply trusting God.’ Still, my time woodworking (or perhaps in the woodshed) was not finished. I still had some wrestling God wanted me to do.
There is an old story of a young farmer trying to get his mule to move. Pulling and tugging on the reins, screaming, and cussing at the mule were all to no avail. An old farmer stood watching with interest. He told the young farmer the only way to get the mule to move was to talk softly, lovingly, encouragingly to the mule. The young farmer scoffed and, handing the old farmer the reins said, ‘Go right ahead!’ The old farmer smiled, picked up a 2×4 and smacked the mule right across the head. The young farmer was shocked! “I thought you said to talk kindly and softly to him?” The old farmer replied, “You do, but first you have to get his attention!” Sometimes, I can be a mule in need of a 2×4. (More woodworking!)
As if it was important to test my thesis, before I finished writing this short article, I had to see the doctor to determine why I was having such extreme episodes of shortness of breath. The doctor’s visit turned into a CAT scan which led to appointments with a pulmonologist and in-home oxygen. As I write this I am waiting for a biopsy of my lung tissue to be scheduled. I’m told it’s not expected to be a cancer. It isn’t COVID. Could it be the remnants of an old Covid infection? Possibly. Still, though, there are a lot of variants that don’t fit that. I’m also told that if I get COVID now, the flu, or a similar infection; it could be life-threatening. Do I make sure I wear a mask now every time I go out? Which side of the faith fence does that fall on?
After much consideration of this new question, I can say to you I am 100 percent comfortable not wearing a mask anywhere. I am not afraid that I will get an infection and I totally trust God to do whatever He wants to do. However…
What about the oxygen? That becomes a common-sense method to help with quality of life, not quantity for me, at least.
There is yet another consideration. If my family, those I care for more than any, ask me to wear a mask and do other things to prevent the risk of any infection, what would I do? If the doctor, who is a born-again believer tells me to prevent infection of any kind I should mask up, what do I do? If I wear it to keep them comfortable and because I respect their wishes, but I know God knows my heart and He knows I trust Him, is it Okay? What if it impairs my Christian witness for others who do not know the back story, they just see me, “Mr. No-Mask” suddenly wearing one. Is my testimony hurt?
Sometimes a question doesn’t have an immediately clear answer. Sometimes, maybe there is more than one good option. That is where we can trust God’s word. You can be certain, there is only one truth. Regardless of what the Oregon school board believes, 2+2 still only equals 4. There is only the truth of God’s word. It is timeless and it covers every possible contingency. The truth is that God is in control. He will always do what is best and will bring glory and honor to Himself. If I can trust God with my every breath, I can trust Him to make certain my testimony is not damaged while I take the prudent course of action and do as I am asked by family and instructed by my physician. If I say that God has placed physicians in our lives to help us with our quality of life and then I refuse to follow their admonitions, I am not honoring God. I will do as I am told.
According to God’s word, every individual is responsible to God for his or her own actions, for the condition of their heart. That said, no one can dictate to you on an issue such as whether you are trusting God either by wearing a mask or by not wearing a mask. That is between you and God. He knows your heart and you can always ask Him to strengthen your faith. I am certain I will do that as I go through whatever lay ahead. I believe our churches need to open up and trust God and not allow politicians to push us by decrees that are not laws and are not passed in an open session of our legislatures (state or federal) to make laws, by votes of elected representatives. That, honestly, has always been my biggest sticking point regarding ‘mask decrees’.
If the governor decreed all Christians to wear a yellow crucifix sewn to our outer garment, would we do it just because he said so? Just wondering. If it is under the threat of death, would we? I am not judging any past groups of peoples. The Jews persecuted by the Nazi 3rd Reich showed incredible fortitude and no one can walk in their shoes today. But we, as a church, better decide now, before it happens, where do we draw our line in the sand? The time is coming when we will either hold that line or acquiesce. Prepare now to stand strong when it comes, not if it comes.
My time woodworking has been beneficial to me. I hope maybe it might help you think through some things for yourself. I’m not as ‘spiritual’ as I was before. Now, I am just thankful for each breath and I’ll keep on, one breath at a time.