Over the past week I have been struggling against frustration and fear. There has been a nagging sense that something is wrong…really wrong.
Of course you are probably thinking this is obvious. But I don’t simply mean the virus or the inconveniences it has caused. No, there is a sense that something is wrong with our whole response…like there is something we are missing in all of this, something conspiratorial. We find ourselves at the mercy of a media empire that drives us along through fear.
Before you stop reading, realize this is not some wild conspiracy theory from the right or left (or the asylum). There are no invading aliens, no illuminate, no black helicopters, no secret society of world leaders out to rule the world. You are right to doubt the conspiracy theorists, but wrong to disregard the conspiracy. The conspiracy is real and it is worldwide…and it is inhuman. The enemy of all humanity…the radical and personal evil of dark powers in heavenly places…is seeking to drive us along through fear, and fear is a horrible and tyrannical driver.
I do not mean to imply that every measure and every prescribed action we have taken and are taking is wrongheaded and demonic–though some most likely are. I don’t have the expertise to know that with any certainty. Quite honestly I doubt anyone does know with certainty. There are discussions and debates on some actions we have taken even among the top experts. Some of the measures make total sense to me: keeping crowds low (below 50) as well as postponing and canceling large crowd events, encouraging those who can work remotely to do so, moving college courses to online setting for the remainder of the semester, etc. However, this post is not about what I think the government should or shouldn’t do. Rather, I want to focus on our calling as the church.
Today in church the source of the nagging feeling, the something wrong, came into focus. Our reading was Ephesians 3, and I have been meditating on Ephesians for months now for a Sunday school class on spiritual warfare I was teaching. As the preacher revisited and expounded in passing on a particular passage (vs. 10) which was not the main point of his sermon, so many things came into place. Verse ten says: “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.” These are the rulers and authorities mentioned in Ephesians 1 and 6…those made subject to Christ and the evil forces against which we wrestle. These are the rulers that Paul tells us in Colossians that God “disarmed [and] put to open shame” through the crucifixion (2:15).
This is the point, the subjection of rulers and powers continues in the world and God’s rule is made manifest through his present body, the Church. But I am not sure we are being present and active. It is not clear that we have any sense that we are in a war.
But the war is real and the powers have grown aggressive. Consider the statistics of actual serious cases requiring hospitalization…usually about 20%. I personally know only a handful of people actually suffering from the Covid-19 virus. Of that handful, the significant majority consist of a team a national missionary leaders (almost all in the hospital in serious condition) our Anglican Bishop for the diocese (on a ventilator) and two more priests and one Doctor. This is not a scientific sampling, but it is suspiciously lopsided. At the same time, while I appreciate the efforts our ministers are making to serve the people and respect CDC requests, we as the broader church begin to look empty and absent if we merely hunker down and entertain ourselves like we’re on extended holiday.
Our response to this attack has been tepid. We are busy posting funny memes or catching up on our latest shows. The attitude that seems prevalent at present is wrapped up in the meme that says, “your grandparents were called to war, you’ve been asked to sit on the couch.” This near laziness has even been spiritualized by some who talk of this time as if it is a Sabbath event or a Jubilee year. This is neither. Sabbath and Jubilee release captives and restore property. Sabbath and Jubilee inculcate a life of compassion, peace, and joy. This virus comes to kill, steal, and destroy on a grand scale, and it is of utmost importance that we recognize it for what it is.
So, this is the call to war.
Get off your couch. Get on your knees. Be present in the spirit (that is only possible in prayer) where you cannot be present in the body. Be present to the people around you. Face the reality, to enter the war is to enter the cruciform life.
This is lent. Turn off the noise. Shut out the fear mongers. Stop pointing fingers and blaming people for a virus that none of us can control. Look death in the face and accept your own mortality…knowing that the cross reduces death to sleep and makes of it a passage to new life.
Bring your body into greater submission to God through moderate and secret fasting. Be submissive to human authorities, but don’t be passive. Love is active and present, and you are still called to love your neighbor and you are still called to fellowship with the body as much as you are able. Reject social distance even when you must respect spacial distance. If you still have work and money make the sacrifice and give more to your church and help those who are losing jobs…like I said this is a cross formed life. Pray fervently for your priests and pastors and bishops and missionaries.
I hope in the days ahead to put my spiritual warfare outlines into an accessible written form here in the hopes that it may help some to war more effectively. May God help us to overcome by the word of our testimony, the blood of the lamb, and not loving our lives even unto death.