14 March 2020

“Believing for God” and viruses.

As I write this, the United States is dealing with an outbreak of coronavirus; specifically COVID-19. It’s as communicable as flu, and a little more fatal, so people are encouraged to wash their hands, avoid touching their faces, and stay away from one another.

And since humans are creatures of extremes, this also means they’re stockpiling supplies, “just in case.” This is why the grocery stores are running out of hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies, toilet paper, and certain types of food. (The average American diet being as lousy as it is, y’notice the stores aren’t really running out of fresh fruits and vegetables though. Just saying.) Likewise a lot of major events, like sports and concerts—any venue where they’ll pack a lot of people in the audience—are getting canceled, just in case someone with coronavirus is there, and infects everyone else. Better safe than sorry.

I live in California. Our governor encouraged everyone to cancel any large gatherings: Any events with 250 or more people should be canceled, or postponed till the end of the month. He didn’t make it an executive order; he’s trusting people “to do the right thing.”

Some will. Some have. My church, fr’instance, is moving our services to the internet. We don’t have 250 people, but it’s a lot of people in a small space, and again: Better safe than sorry.

My mom’s church, on the other hand, has more than 250 people in regular attendance. Last I heard (and this might change), they’re meeting Sunday as usual. Because “we’re believing for God.”

Believing for God to what? Did he promise them anything? Did he specifically tell them he was gonna do something? Because he didn’t tell Christians in general any such thing in the bible.

Jesus did say we can pick up snakes Mk 16.18 in a textual variant; it’s a passage which we oughta interpret as God’s divine protection during something which could potentially happen in the course of ministry. Ac 27.3-6 Unfortunately there are such Christians as snake-handlers, who’ve turned this into a sacrament—if you really trust God, let’s play with the snakes! Like I said, humans are creatures of extremes.

But in that variant, Jesus didn’t say, “These signs accompany believers: They will interact with people who have communicable diseases, and won’t get them.” He certainly has the power to make such a declaration—and contrary to the name-it-and-claim-it crowd, we don’t. But Jesus didn’t grant us any such thing, because he doesn’t want his followers to foolhardily assume we’re immune to everything, and step into situations which’ll kill us.

And that’s precisely what’s going on when churches choose to ignore basic precautions, and do as we do regardless. It’s not an act of faith: God’s given us no promises to put our faith in! It’s an act of wishful thinking. We hope God’ll spare us this plague, even though he gave us no preventative measures we can do as acts of faith (i.e. look at the snake on the pole, Nu 21.6-9 or paint the doorposts with blood Ex 12.13).

…Although God did give us public officials, Ro 13.1 who offer us these preventative guidelines because they’re trying to prevent worse. When we ignore them because “we’re believing for God,” we’d better have a darned good, biblical reason for expecting God to act. Not just wishful thinking or “I know better” libertarianism.

Nor carnal thinking.

I mentioned the governor’s precautions to someone a few days ago. His response? A dismissive, “Oh, the governor.” He doesn’t respect the governor. Mostly because he’s Republican and the governor’s Democrat: If they’re in the opposition party, they must be bereft of all commonsense, so you can ignore everything they tell you. Even in this instance, when they’re simply repeating the advice of medical professionals.

And yeah, no doubt a number of Christians feel they’re entirely free to do likewise. Honor our civic leaders. Honor the president. Pray for them and follow their advice. That is, until they’re in the opposition party; then mock them, dismiss them, and ignore them. If our governor were Republican they’d be quick to limit their meeting sizes and close their buildings; it’d be their patriotic duty! But he’s Democrat, so f--- him; they trust God.

So this whole “believing for God” deal? I’m not saying Mom’s church has adopted it because they’re led by Republicans; I’m entirely sure they’d do the same thing if our governor were Republican. But plenty of people in her church will easily adopt the “we believe God” mantra because he’s not Republican. It’s their own small, petty way of sticking it to the governor: “We’re meeting anyway. In your face, you liberal wiener.”

Likewise there are too many Christians who don’t believe in science. So when nurses and physicians assistants and doctors tell ’em, “Here’s what you oughta do,” their response is likewise, “Oh you don’t know what you’re talking about,” and do as they’re gonna do anyway.

Or fall for any “wellness” scam which supports their biases. I have friends who seriously think oregano oil will cure coronavirus—hey, it killed a different coronavirus in a lab test, years ago!—so they’re gonna buy that. So I actually read the lab report which they think proves their claim: It might win a grade school science fair, but it proves nothing. It poured oregano oil directly onto the virus—which is fine if you’re using it as a household cleaner, but these folks are talking about it as if you eat it and it cures you, and that’s an entirely different, and unproven, deal. It didn’t compare oregano oil to the results of what a placebo, like saline, might do—and I betcha saline would kill coronavirus faster. Since there was no placebo, of course there was no double-blind study; we’ve no idea whether oregano oil honestly works better than alternatives. Honestly, it might! But it might not: It wasn’t tested properly, so we don’t know. All we really know is people are selling oregano oil, and I betcha it costs way more than bleach.

Both these problems are examples of carnal thinking. It’s people who follow their biases, not the facts; believe what they choose to believe, rather than what’s been tested and proven, whether they like the results or not; believe whom they choose to believe, because the people they trust tell ’em everything they want to hear.

In some cases it’s obvious carnality; it’s pure arrogance. This one pastor I know of, who plans to open his church no matter what, hasn’t even bothered to consult God: He’s entirely sure God would want the churches to be open, because we Christians can pray for the sick to be cured… and of course because he doesn’t trust the government. He’s entirely sure he knows God’s mind, and that he’s right; so why ask? This pastor’s kind of a dick, so his behavior doesn’t surprise me any.

Trusting your gut instead of wisdom: That’s not faith in God! That’s pride: That’s faith in your own gut. That’s faith in your flesh. Those who follow the flesh are actually opposed to the Spirit, Ga 5.17 and are following themselves to their own detriment; Paul even says it’s death. Ro 8.6 We must never confound the desires of our own minds with God’s will, or project our wishes upon him. We must only pursue what he actually wants, what he truly promises.

And, if he’s promised nothing, use your heads. Use your commonsense. Follow the advice of experts, of scholars, of wiser people than us. And yeah, sometimes the advice of public officials in the wrong political party.

God’s gotta actually say something.

God never stopped talking to his kids, despite what some doubters might imagine… the better to ignore what he’s currently telling them, although that’s a whole other article. So when we’re talking with God, if we ask him, “Hey, should our church meet this Sunday?” and he says, “Sure; don’t worry about this virus thingy; I got you,” now we have something we can put our faith in. Now we have something we can trust.

We still need to get this confirmed though. We absolutely do. For three reasons.

SUPER HIGH HEALTH RISK. If all the other churches are staying home, you’re gonna get visitors. The bigger the church, the greater chance strangers might attend… and the greater chance one of ’em is infected. In fact if you’re a church which believes in faith healing, and people intentionally visit you to get cured, there’s a really good chance you’ll get an infected visitor.

All sorts of people attend church, but the gospel is particularly for the weak and ill… and as a result our churches have a lot of weak and ill people in ’em. People with chronic conditions, the elderly, the young… and all of these are people whom flus and coronaviruses will particularly affect. These viruses are deadly enough as it is, but if you’re already sick, or your immune system is already compromised (i.e. you’ve got AIDS or lupus, or you received an organ transplant), it’s likely to kill you. Churches in particular need to be cautious about disease!

And, frankly, we’re not. Because too many of us “believe for God” instead of taking basic precautions.

Plus churches aren’t all that sanitary anyway. Churches can seldom afford to hire professionals to clean the bathrooms, much less the seats, so things can go years without disinfection. Too many Christians wear their best clothes, not their cleanest like the bible mandates, and some of their “Sunday best” hasn’t been washed in a while. Too many of us like to greet one another with hugging and kisses and warm handshakes, and of course don’t use sanitizer. Churches are meant to be family, so we let our guards down just like they’re family—and you know how fast a virus can spread within a family.

So God had better say, “I got you.” Otherwise the virus will.

WE DON’T WANNA CLOSE. Unless we don’t really wanna go to church anyway, we wanna follow the scriptures’ admonition to keep meeting regularly. He 10.25 Christians need our support system; newbies especially. There’d better be a really, really good reason to skip a week. Heck, we’re entirely sure God wants us to meet, no matter what! Viruses and hurricanes and other plagues? Pshaw; isn’t God mightier than all those things combined?

Plus if you don’t personally know anyone who’s fallen ill, you might not think the situation is all that dire anyway. Shutting down all the sporting events, concerts, and conferences feels like overkill; like living in fear, and we’re certainly not afraid. Perfect love casts out fear 1Jn 4.18 and all that.

So if we pray and that voice in our head says, “Nah dude; open as usual,” of course you’re gonna hope that voice belongs to God. But this is a classic case of confirmation bias: The voice is telling us what we want to hear. It’s tapping our desires. Even righteous-looking desires, like the desire to have church services as usual.

But God doesn’t need to instruct us to do what we’re already gonna do.

Yep. The Holy Spirit is far more likely to correct us than confirm us. He confirms us when we have doubts—“No no, stay the course”—but otherwise he doesn’t have to confirm us; we’re doing fine! It’s only when we start veering off course that he’s gotta drop us a new message—“Come on, child, you know better”—or when an unexpected obstacle is coming—“Later today you’re gonna have to do something out of the ordinary.” (And sometimes he tells us why… but often he doesn’t, ’cause he’s trying to grow faith in us.) In every circumstance the Spirit speaks as necessary—and no, this doesn’t mean he speaks rarely; we need a lot of guidance! But telling us to do as we’re doing, usually isn’t necessary at all.

So if the Spirit tells us to ignore our elected officials—and especially if he tells us to ignore the laws!—we’d better darned well be sure the Spirit told us so. Test that voice; make sure it’s his voice and definitely not our own, or the devil’s. Viruses are a life-and-death thing, and we especially don’t wanna be wrong about that.

POTENTIAL TERRIBLE TESTIMONY. When we’re “believing for God” to keep our churches virus-free despite the obvious health risk, he’d absolutely better come through for us. Because if he doesn’t, and we become the epicenter of an outbreak, we’re boned.

And not just us. Christianity as a whole. You think pagans care about the differences between one church and another? Between one denomination and another? They don’t care about our differences. (Neither does Christ Jesus; pagans have that correct, at least.) So if one church, fr’instance, harbors pedophiles, pagans treat it like every church harbors pedophiles. If one church thinks science is hogwash, pagans think every church dismisses science.

So one church’s reckless behavior is gonna affect the whole of Christendom. Same as usual. Not good.

And it gives antichrists more ammunition to bash Jesus, bash people who depend on Jesus, discourage those who might be considering Jesus: In general it makes our work harder. All because one pastor didn’t bother to double-check his gut feelings, and now his church is Plague Central.

Our faith is only properly placed in God and what he’s no-fooling, in-context said. Accept no substitutes. Doubt yourself; trust him. And be wise.