COVID restrictions and the Glory of God’s Name

I think most professing Christians would agree we should uphold the principle of the Third Commandment: “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain” (Ex 20:7). This does not merely mean we should avoid using God’s name as a curse word. We are called to use God’s name with reverence, certainly never invoking His name as an excuse to twist the meaning of Scripture (Rom 16:17, 2 Peter 3:16), speak lies (Prov 12:22, Eph 4:25), or curse our leaders (Ex 22:28, Acts 23:5). Jesus taught us to pray that God’s name would be hallowed—specially praised, glorified, and reverenced (Matt 6:9). This is one of only two from the Ten Commandments with a built-in warning: “for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His name in vain” (Ex 20:7, cf Lev 24:16). God takes blasphemy seriously.

What does this have to do with COVID? I have held off on writing about the whole “mask or no mask” debate, particularly since plenty of other people have already weighed in on this, such as this article. And I actually want to say much more than I will, partly because I love and respect my Christian brothers and sisters who have differing views about mask-wearing, church reopenings, civil liberties, and so forth. At this point, however, I am disturbed. As a disciple of Christ, I must draw the line at people dragging the name of our holy God through the mud in order to castigate public officials and defy the law. I refrain from posting a clip of the Palm Beach County Commissioners’ meeting from late last month due to some of the language used, but a rule was recently made that everyone in that county needed to wear a face mask in public because of Florida’s escalating number of COVID-19 cases.

Many people at this town hall meeting used ostensibly God-centered reasons for not following the law. Regardless of whatever you think about mask rules, I urge my fellow believers to be concerned about cavalier misuses of God’s name for any reason, let alone for the sake of defying government decrees. One lady said the rule showed “they want to throw God’s wonderful breathing system out the door”. Another woman asked, in light of the fact that God breathed the breath of life into Adam at Creation (Gen 2:7): “where do you derive the authority to regulate human breathing?” In other words, she was saying that as a direct result of God enlivening mankind via His breath, she could disobey a government ordinance. She was creating a new interpretation of Scripture and God’s divine life-giving power to provide a seemingly-religious rationale for her refusal to submit to the government. However, her novel eisegesis (reading outside meaning into Scripture) expressed her own personal indignation; she was not speaking for Creator God.

Most striking, though, was a woman who threatened the county legislators with a “citizen’s arrest.” She said, “every single one of you that are obeying the devil’s laws are going to be arrested.” “Every single one of you have a smirk behind that little mask, but every single one of you are going to get punished by God. You cannot—you cannot escape God”, she said repeatedly, “you cannot escape God, even with the mask or six feet.” (She also made a number of other confusing conspiratorial comments about the military and Bill Gates and scientifically inaccurate statements which I won’t bother to quote.) She went on to say the officials “should all be in a psych ward” and “I was born free. I will stay free. My rights come from God, not from you.” (I do have to wonder if she has ever read Romans 13 which says government authority is directly granted by God and that those resisting the government will “incur judgment” and “wrath” from God.)

Indeed, it is true that God’s just judgment on every single person’s sin is a terrifying thing, and our own punishment is inevitable unless we are washed in the blood of Christ. Yet all of these statements placed God’s name on the people’s lips, even while showing little true reverence for Him (Matt 15:7-9). Reinterpreting the Bible to fit your own preferences, calling down God’s wrath on government officials, and saying they are creating “devil’s laws” in order to invoke protections under the First Amendment are serious misuses of God’s name. Brethren, I realize the people reading this article are not the people in that news clip. Yes, they are extreme examples. I also have no idea if any of the “Christians” in those clips have actually trusted Christ alone for their salvation. Yet even if they are not true believers, that is all the more reason for us to step up and defend the name of God in front of others within our sphere of influence. As Christians we must avoid “grumbling and disputing” (Phil 2:14-15), ensuring our speech is always “gracious, seasoned with salt” (Col 4:6), and, furthermore, defending God’s name when we hear it misused, something I confess I have often been slow to do.

The truth of Christianity, the good news of Christ’s atoning death and resurrection to save His people, already carries enough offense and strangeness to those who do not believe. Let’s not allow others who claim to speak for God add to the confusion. We must speak up to say, “that person who said they were speaking with spiritual knowledge—they are not speaking for me and they are not speaking for God. They are angry and defiant, which is not the life we are called to as Christians. By invoking his name, they are making a mockery of the true and living God I worship.” Please, friends, proactively distance yourselves from these things; speak up to defend God’s name! People must not see the news and assume this is how Christians think and act. I suppose if more than just a few friends read this article someone may claim I am liberal or Marxist or whatever else they can imagine, but I can only reiterate: regardless of what “rights” we are discussing, we must be more zealous about preserving true reverence for the name of the God Who Saves than for defending our own personal lifestyle. God’s name is not a talisman we pull out for political and personal favor.

Let us, then, set an example of humility, self-sacrifice, respect for those in authority, and most importantly of all, profound reverence in the way we think of and speak about our God. As our Lord and Savior told us, “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt 12:36-37). May the words we speak, then, be “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come”! (Rev 4:8)

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