“That’s all I ever hear about…”, says the small boy whose parents were missionaries in a tropical country, “…Germs and Jesus.”
Many who have recently learned to wash our hands properly can sympathise with the poor lad. It is hard to take seriously a hidden threat or to trust in an invisible friend.
What do you sing or say as you wash your hands? The Lord’s Prayer, Happy Birthday or God Save the Queen? Whether you sing or count to 20 seconds in your head, most of us have developed the habit of taking more care with hygiene.
Wash your hands and trust the Lord. They go together. Rather like Cromwell’s men in the English Civil War: “Trust the Lord and keep your powder dry”.
O, then there are the masks. Should we wear a mask or not? Some say, “We have freedom. We don’t need a mask”. They might even use a biblical text to bolster their arguments. Mark Sandberg spoke at Communitas in Riga on how we need to be careful how we use texts like the following:
“For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).
There we have it, we are not intended to be fearful but be strong in faith.
Trust God or wear a mask? This is a false dichotomy.
Christians should be careful not to weaponise biblical texts, to wound rather than heal; to stun rather than enable.
Churches need wisdom at this time as they begin to explore ways to reopen after the lockdown.
I have been thinking a lot about what Paul deals with in Romans Chapters 14–15.
Paul takes two whole chapters to tackle the issue of how Christians agree on matters where they have freedom to come to different conclusions.
Using the language of “Strong” and “Weak” to describe different approaches to ceremonial diets and the celebration of special days, Paul is urging on the Roman Christians a flexibility that respects the decisions made by fellow believers on issues which divide opinions.
It is a matter of tolerance. Think of it in engineering terms — an allowable leeway either side of a fixed point. Yet, as Robertson McQuilken reminds us:
“It seems easier to go to the consistent extreme than to stay in the centre of biblical tension”.
What might Paul say about masks? Perhaps he would say: “Trust God and wear a mask!”
“There’s a lot at stake for Christian witness during COVID-19. Do we want the non-believing world to look at Christians as reckless virus super-spreaders who put their own freedoms (to gather in person as soon as possible, to not wear masks unless absolutely mandated) ahead of the health of their larger community? Or do we want them to look at Christians as “servants to all,” willing to forego their freedoms out of Christlike neighbour love?” (Brett McCracken 4 Reasons to Wear a Mask)
Paul is clear about what is at stake when using or not using our freedoms:
“Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19–22).
All of this calls for a respect for difference, a principled flexibility and a willingness to serve a higher interest.
Lord, give wisdom to say, do and wear the right thing for the right reasons. Amen