Every corner of the globe has been shaken by the Covid-19 pandemic. Death tolls, lockdowns, and major economic downturns will have a ripple effect that will echo for years to come. It’s impossible to truly know how much socioeconomic scarring will persist in the years and decades to come, but I think both expert and common opinions agree that the world’s social landscape has been irreversibly changed. The seeds of fear, doubt, anger, and confusion have been sown, both by the abrupt spread of coronavirus and by the response to it. These seeds have sprouted confusion, misinformation, suspicion, mistrust, and civil tension. And sent into the midst of this social firestorm are the armies of the Kingdom of Heaven, the followers of Jesus. However, this army isn’t made of indestructible, impervious Heavenly fabric; we are still carnal, that is, still fleshy. We are not altogether unaffected by the plague like the Hebrews of Exodus. Though we have pledged loyalty to Christ our King, we are still affected by the same fear, doubt, confusion, anger, sickness, and loss as the multitudes of people around us who don’t have the hope of Jesus. However, the places we find comfort and the means we use to cope will make all the difference in the world, one way or the other, to the people God has sent us to minister to.
Things To Lament
As has already been articulated in my friend Char Brodersen’s excellent article, lament can be a powerful, humble, worshipful response to the very real confusion, hurt, and anger we feel in times of suffering. And Jesus promises to never abandon or forget us (Matthew 28:20; Romans 8:38-39) in these bleak, dark nights of the soul, having experienced similar feelings of heaviness (Luke 22:44), grief (Isaiah 53:3), abandonment and confusion Himself (Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34; Psalm 22:1). Not only does God know what it feels like (Hebrews 4:15), but He also gives us the tremendous stories of our fathers of the faith dealing with similar emotions in books like Job, Lamentations, and the Psalms. The Psalms particularly, as Char illustrates, provide a framework for expressing lament, complete with examples we can apply. Perhaps the most significant encouragement comes from seeing successful passage through such seasons for people like David, and from seeing the peaceable fruit that God brings into his life, and by extension, can bring into our lives through seasons of lament. Even though lament is an intensely transparent, intimate process, it is something we can model openly to our spouses, our children, and our neighbors. Successful public Christianity isn’t the art of hiding and faking our emotions; it is illustrating God’s faithfulness through all seasons of life, through our words, deeds, or the transparent revelation of a life dependent on His love and help. Seeing a mature Christian work through grief and lament and seeing how God helps His friends through it can be an incredibly encouraging thing for those watching.
However, because we still engage daily with our struggle against our sin-nature, godliness isn’t the only response we can have. There are many sinful practices that we might be running to during this season, seeking comfort in places we ought not go (and inadvertently leading others to go). Some examples might include burying oneself in social media, over-eating, consuming pornography, heavy drinking, binge-watching movies and shows, or indulging a litany of fascinations with fruitless pursuits. These are things we can turn to when we’re uncomfortable. We can reach for these things for the comforting numbness they can temporarily offer. However, most of these things are obvious sinful vices, either being outrightly evil in nature, or evil via overindulgence. There is one interest, however, that may be more of a blind spot to the Christian. And because it can be justified as a righteous effort to keep the church informed, a-la the “watchman on the wall,” its ability to distract and redirect Christians away from their missional purpose make it a formidably dangerous indulgence: the embracing and spreading of conspiracy theories.
The phrase “conspiracy theory” may be overly conspicuous. Most purveyors of less-known information, or clandestine truth, would be slow to identify their convictions with such a novel title, or with calling their information theoretical in nature. However, of the Christians that cast their lots in with those who proliferate secret societal, spiritual, or political truth, there is something important that must be considered. The indulgence of a desire to know and proliferate the secret truth behind the intentional release of Covid-19, the rigging of elections, the scheming of evil powers, or any number of possible political intrigues, is destructive in itself. Why? Because sharing conspiracy theories supersedes the sharing of the Gospel.
The incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus meets our deepest, most earnest human longing: identity, purpose, acceptance, and a destiny. Ultimate peace with God and rest from all labors comes through the person and ministry of Jesus. But pursuing and sharing conspiracy theories quickly becomes an analgesic disconnect from real suffering in the world that needs redress by a Savior. Immersing oneself in the hunt for clandestine purposes and systems of evil acts as an emotional anesthetic, providing only a brief, anodyne numbness that shadows the satisfaction that can only come through Christ. Connecting the dots of destruction with the threads of evil becomes an urgent crusade of truth, with a desire to spread the knowledge that will save lives, save the Church, and save the country. Instead of ministering love, compassion, hope, or the Gospel of Jesus, conspiracy theories revolve around messages of fear, suspicion, and doom; news that is tone-deaf to a suffering world made of real people.
Dealing With Wrongs the Wrong Way
While many would promote the idea that this virus is a political device, the grief from effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are far from imagined. As of this writing, there have been 3,170,335 confirmed cases of Covid-19 globally, resulting in 224,708 deaths. Of the 1,028,217 confirmed cases in the United States, 59,446 of those cases have resulted in death. This is something to lament. These numbers represent lives ended, families shattered, and loved ones being parted from people they care deeply about.
Additionally, and even though the increase is slowing, in the 6 weeks preceding this writing, more than 26,000,000 new unemployment claims have been filed. As America (and much of the rest of the world) has been forced into lockdown, thousands upon thousands of businesses have closed; many of whom will never reopen. The entire globe is experiencing the economic downturn as the suffering of lost income spreads among the working class. This is something to grieve. This is upsetting. This is suffering for those directly affected, as it is for who care, and it’s worth lamenting to God about.
However, reading, sharing, and spending time indulging conspiracy theories about why this is all happening, and who is gaining from it misleads people into focusing on the wrong things. There is evil and injustice in the world that we have to reconcile, yes, but not by focusing on it and exposing it. Political intrigue absolutely existed in Jesus’ time. From the various Herods to the Romans, and everywhere in between, Jesus, his disciples, and the first-century church were surrounded by secret plots within the government and society. But Jesus did not arm his disciples with knowledge and facts about the secret dealings of the Jewish religious leaders and the Romans. Neither did He seek to publicly connect all of the political threads of power back to the satan, whom the Bible credits with being the power behind Earthly powers (Matthew 4:8, 12:25-26; Luke 4:5; Ephesians 2:2, 6:12, Colossians 2:15, Revelation 11:15).
The Wrong Weapons
Jesus did not direct His followers to political passivism. On the contrary, both He and the rest of the body of New Testament scripture seek to motivate the disciples of Jesus to political action: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you …”(Matthew 5:44., NKJV). “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is”(Mark 13:33). “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
Jesus did want us to take action against the injustice happening in the world at the hands of corrupt government, corrupt officials, or corrupt angelic powers, but it wasn’t through the whisperings of conspiracy, the spreading of leaflets, the emailing newsletters, or even through military might (2 Corinthians 10:3-5). However, the actions that He does prescribe are recommended on the basis of their efficacious destruction of The Enemy’s structures of power. His example and His instruction to us was this: to pray. Notice, He doesn’t give us step two of His plan of action. We aren’t encouraged to pray until we see it isn’t effectual. In fact, we’re told that our prayers will have a significant affect (James 5:16), though He never promises that said affects will meet our expectations. Regardless, pouring our passions into an unprescribed means of seeking justice for perceived injustice is, at best a misdirection of spiritual resources, and at worst, a fight against God’s own hand. Scripturally, how many times has God used evil plots and powers for His good purpose? And of those times, how often does God encourage His faithful to organize rebellion and fight the powers? Consider Daniel’s quiet, powerful rebellion (Daniel 6:10); one that changed governmental law when such change was considered impossible.
The Wrong Good News
We are called to expose the world to Jesus. All wrongs committed long before us, and all committed long after us (should the Lord tarry) will be made right by Jesus Himself. And any and all people marked with sin endemic in every member of the human race can receive mercy, grace, and the power to become God’s family, through the work of Jesus. This good news is what the NT writers call “The Gospel.” This is truly the greatest news. There is no message greater, more powerful or more transformative.
However, when conspiracy theories enter the social interactions of Christians, the true “good news” can find itself on equal footing, or worse, as an inferiorly prioritized, secondary position. This can be because the subject of the conspiracy is more closely tied to our sense of security than the news that Jesus will make wrongs right. Culturally, especially in America, we fear that conspiracies will have their way with society, leading to times of persecution for Christians and unchecked corruption in our government. If culture rejects Christ, people will go to Hell. But if culture fails to take action against a political conspiracy, we will lose our country. We will lose our strength to lobby. We will lose our voice. We will see a new age of moral decline. And as scary as the later scenario is, the former scenario is much, much worse. Perhaps this is a bold claim, but it seems fairly self-evident within scripture that spiritual freedom has a much higher priority than physical, political freedom.
Prior to Jesus’ advent, Israel was waiting for relief in the form of a Davidic, warrior king-messiah to take away the scourge and blight of Roman rule. And to many Jews of the day, Jesus was an absolute disappointment. He performed miracles, spoke truth to power, arrived in Jerusalem on a donkey like Messiah was supposed to, and the people responded by crying out “Save us now, son of David! Save us now!” And He did. He gave up His life to save them from the true enemy: sin. This was not the enemy that they wanted Messiah to conquer. But this was indeed the enemy that Messiah came to conquer. In the priority of His purview, God is not willing that any should perish in their sins (2 Peter 3:9). But as He proven repeatedly, He is willing to allow His people to suffer, be persecuted, lose their rights, and lose their lives, considering the souls of humanity as the greater priority. It was this eternal hazard, spiritual death, that He judged as requiring action, as opposed to confronting evil systems and liberating His people from corrupt government rule in the form of Rome (or similarly corrupt governments and political agendas).
Christ Is Triumphant
We must not forget, especially during times of intense trial, difficulty, and temptation, that Christ is our triumphant king. He has championed the abolition of our captivity and has begun a new work within us that will not cease until we see Him in glory with our waking eyes. He has established His supremacy above the principalities and powers of this world, both demonic (Colossians 2:15) and human (1 Corinthians 3:18-20). More than that, He has made the Enemies’ machinations impotent against His people (Isaiah 54:17). His strength is greater than all the powers of evil, and all of their wicked schemes (Psalm 37:12-17; 1 John 4:4). Though He promises trials, difficulty, and suffering, we are to hope in this: He has overcome the world (John 16:33). I pray that you will consider how you use your influence. What message are you preaching? What groups are you aligning yourself with? Are their goals aligned with the goals of the Kingdom of Heaven? Are yours?
We live in a world of Earthly kingdoms that are passing away. Following the way of Nebuchadnezzar, Alexander, and Julius Caesar, all Earthly kingdoms will pass away. And try as we might, America will join them. But our citizenship is not with America. Neither is it with Britain, Ireland, Romania, or any other human-led sovereign nation. Our citizenship belongs to a Kingdom that will never pass away. Reflect on where your treasure lies. As you engage on social media platforms, email conversations, etc., are you striving for a Kingdom with no end?
Your efforts can be used for God’s everlasting Kingdom. And He wants to partner with you in the spreading of the most-worthy message, the most-worthy name, and your most worthy attribute: Christ within you, the hope of glory. As Paul speaks to the Colossians (and to us now), may it similarly be said of us that it is truly “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end (we) also labor, striving according to His working which works in (us) mightily” (Colossians 1:28-29). Focus on the Gospel. Don’t spend your influence preaching a message eternally less significant than Jesus.
2020. Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. March. Accessed April 29, 2020.
Zarroli, Jim, and Avie Schneider. 2020. “Deluge Continues: 26 Million Jobs Lost In Just 5 Weeks”. 04 23. Accessed 04 29, 2020.