Wednesday’s Column: Third’s Words (Round 2)
Have you ever heard the expression, “Evil never sleeps?” I tried finding the origin of this expression with those tools available to me. From my limited search, I believe the expression likely originates from Proverbs 4.16.
“For they cannot sleep unless they do evil; And they are robbed of sleep unless they make someone stumble.” (NASB)
I have taken note of how this is true even during a pandemic.
The first thing striking me was my state still advertised its lottery. Are lottery tickets an essential item for which people should leave their house to buy? I would think not. This soon became a moot point, though, since the state began advertising its existing lottery app one could use to buy lottery tickets online from the “safety” of their own home. Evil never sleeps.
Second, I had seen the news reports of how pornography was profiting from the shutdown. As soon as people began sheltering in place, one purveyor of internet porn noted an immediate spike in visits to their site. India experienced a 95% rise in porn viewership. 1 Only South Korea, who did not shutdown as much of their country, did not see such a porn patronage spike. 2 When other businesses are shutdown, pornography has likewise become lucrative for women seeking employment during tough economic times. 3 Evil never sleeps.
Third, while being disappointed by the designation of religious assemblies as nonessential by government, I’ve noted that they have propped up vice as essential. For example, in Denver pot dispensaries and liquor stores were exempted from stay at home orders. 4 Meanwhile, churches have not been able to meet in their buildings, even with efforts to practice social distancing. On the weekend of April 12th, you may recall that Louisville, Kentucky, mayor, Greg Fischer, even criminalized “drive-in” church services. Fortunately, a judge overturned Fischer’s “edict.” 5 Evil never sleeps.
Fourth, the abortion industry remains alive and well during shutdown. While certain states successfully closed abortion clinics at the outset of the shutdown by stating such clinics offered only elective procedures, judges have overturned such decisions in favor of granting access to it. 6 So, we are currently living at a time when cancer screening is non-essential, but killing your unborn child is “necessary.” Yes, evil never sleeps.
Since evil never sleeps, what are we, as children of God, to do?
Be on guard (1 Peter 5.8). As we have shown, our enemy never sleeps. He is looking to devour us. Thus, we must keep up our alertness.
Redeem our time (Ephesians 5.16). Given the uncertainty of our life, we must make the most of the opportunity God gives us to do His will. Even though COVID-19 is deadly, we note that the things taking a man’s life are far more numerous than viruses (cf. James 4.14).
Pray (1 Thessalonians 5.17). We must always maintain a prayerful heart. It is an avenue allowing us to “cast our cares” upon our Lord (1 Peter 5.7). It is likewise the only means whereby we can discover peace surpassing our ability to comprehend (Philippians 4.16-17).
Evil never sleeps, but we can avoid its darkness by remaining on the path shining as bright as day (Proverbs 4.14-15, 18), while devoting ourselves to doing our Lord’s will.
1 Kannan, Saikiran. “Pornography Gets a Pandemic Boost, India Reports 95 per Cent Rise in Viewing.” India Today, Living Media India Limited, 11 Apr. 2020, www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/pornography-gets-a-pandemic-boost-india-reports-95-per-cent-rise-in-viewing-1665940-2020-04-11.
3 Dorn, Sara. “Business Booming for Cam Girls amid Coronavirus Outbreak.” New York Post, NYP Holdings Inc., 16 Mar. 2020, nypost.com/2020/03/14/business-booming-for-cam-girls-amid-coronavirus-outbreak/.
4 Del Giudice, Vincent. “Denver Exempts Pot Shops, Liquor Stores from Stay-at-Home Order.” Bloomberg.com, Bloomberg L.P., 24 Mar. 2020, www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-03-24/denver-exempts-pot-shops-liquor-stores-from-stay-at-home-order.
5 Lord, Shaquille. “District Judge Says City Can’t Stop Louisville Church from Holding Drive-in Easter Service.” WLKY, Hearst Television Inc., 12 Apr. 2020, www.wlky.com/article/district-judge-says-city-cant-stop-louisville-church-from-holding-drive-in-easter-service/32115835.
6 Tamburin, Adam. “Federal Court Tweaks Abortion Order, Still Allows Procedures during COVID-19 Pandemic.” The Tennessean, Tennessean.com, 27 Apr. 2020, www.tennessean.com/story/news/2020/04/27/court-tweaks-tennessee-abortion-order-procedures-still-allowed/3033007001/.
Self-denial is tough. Yet, for us to be obedient to God, we must lay our will to the side in order to pick up God’s Will for us (Luke 9.23). But God is not the only One deserving our consideration in this matter. Sometimes, a Christian’s self-denial requires acquiescing to his or her fellow man (Philippians 2.4).
You’ve likely watched the news about young people insisting that they have their spring break despite admonitions to provide for “social distancing” from the threat of the novel coronavirus. When interviewed, these young people said things such as, “I had been waiting for this for two months and wasn’t going to give this up/lose my money.” With youth, we realize that there is a certain feeling of invincibility. More than one spring breaker stated that he or she felt that the entire threat was being overblown. One fellow, however, stated his feelings thusly: “At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying.” 1 Fortunately, Governor DeSantis stepped in to bring an end to this partying. 2 Even so, the consequences may be irreversible.
I’ve heard the statistics. Yes, they do seem to be on the side of young people (i.e. lower death rates). 3 Even so, it is not a matter of the welfare of these revelers. The CDC guidelines are intended to ensure that fewer people contract the virus, especially those at higher risk. By selfishly engaging in risky behavior (beyond that of the typical spring break fare), these young people put themselves at risk of contracting Covid-19. When they return home, they may pass the virus on to an elderly grandparent, despite not showing any symptoms. 4 Suddenly, that spring break that they insisted on partaking of becomes someone else’s problem, a potentially life-threatening problem.
That’s easy to see, isn’t it? But what of other situations where our refusal to humble ourselves and cede our way to another creates other unintended circumstances? For example, Paul says that if the stronger brother doesn’t bear with the weaknesses of the weak, he is just seeking to please himself (Romans 15.1ff). Paul immediately follows this up by saying that even Christ did not please Himself (Romans 15.3)! Here is the Son of God, Whom Paul said thought it not robbery to be equal to God (Philippians 2.6). (John more plainly states that He is God—John 1.1.) Despite this truth, God decided for the sake of those “made lower than the angels” that His Son would taste death for the greater need of His creation (Hebrews 2.5-9).
Sadly, the flesh wants what it wants. This blinds us to the greater needs of others. When we act selfishly, we are not being like Him Who is our example (Philippians 2.5-8; 1 Peter 2.21). This is why I said at the outset that self-denial is tough. In perilous times, as well as during the good, we may find ourselves asking the Lord to increase our lacking faith. Let us strive to determine to do things not solely based upon its impact or cost to us, but the impact our course of action has upon others. That makes sense not just in pandemics, but when you strive to be a mature member of God’s Family on earth.
1 “US students party on spring break despite coronavirus.” BBC News, BBC, 20 Mar. 2020, www.bbc.com/news/av/world-us-canada-51955362/us-students-party-on-spring-break-despite-coronavirus.
2 Elizabeth-Matamoros. “’The Party Is Over’: Florida Governor Shuts Down Beachgoers.” Washington Free Beacon, Washington Free Beacon, 19 Mar. 2020, freebeacon.com/issues/the-party-is-over-florida-governor-shuts-down-spring-break/?fbclid=IwAR1VNde4flHCtg3dzFvLH4ePKHGTkPYoAo_HNxG2gCNxpOv2B1a1EidzD1Q.
3 Belluck, Pam. “Younger Adults Comprise Big Portion of Coronavirus Hospitalizations in U.S.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 18 Mar. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-young-people.html.
4 Salo, Jackie. “Ex-CDC Head Tom Frieden Says Kids May Be Secret Coronavirus Carriers.” New York Post, New York Post, 3 Mar. 2020, nypost.com/2020/03/02/ex-cdc-head-tom-frieden-says-kids-may-be-secret-coronavirus-carriers/.
An alarming number of people today are obsessed with the COVID-19 outbreak. Nearly every post on social media is focused on it, stores are selling out of essentials, and it comes up in nearly every conversation. This article is not about Coronavirus-19. I’m tired of reading about it and I’m assuming you are, too.
Because the virus is particularly dangerous for older people or those with underlying conditions (a healthy demographic in the church), many congregations have cancelled or reduced services until something can be worked out. As a result, some have attempted to use scripture to claim that these measures are unscriptural.
Some have pointed to the early church: despite the threat of death from man, they continued worshipping. This is true, but that threat was persistent for years. Even then, many early churches met at extreme hours and in extreme secrecy during the worst of persecution. This is not the case today.
Some have pointed to Hebrews 10.25 to say that cancelling services is the same as “forsaking the assembly.” We will look at this passage closely, but we need to keep something very important in mind: most of writings set after the establishment of the church are focused on Christian living. Our standard of conduct, our speech, our attitude toward the world, our understanding of God, how to employ wisdom, etc. are the focus of the vast majority of the New Testament.
For perhaps more than a few, the sum total of their Christianity is the worship assembly on Sunday and Wednesday. Worship is extremely important to godly living and it would be egregiously false to state otherwise (as some state, “I am dedicated to God, not the church”). However, there is but one fragment of a sentence in all of scripture dedicated to the importance of consistent attendance. It is binding and important, but some place a disproportionate emphasis on this passage to the neglect of the rest of scripture. To use the words of Jesus, “They strain at a gnat and swallow a camel” (Matthew 23.23ff).
Hebrews 10.25 states, “not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The next verse says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins…” Verse 29 makes it very clear that 10.25 is talking about “trampling under foot the son of God…”
It is important to note that “forsaking” in 10.25 is ἐγκαταλείποντες (eingkataleipontes), which means to leave, abandon, or desert. The word is also a present active participle in this text, which describes a continuous, willful abandonment of the worship assembly. The same word is to describe a man leaving his father and mother and clinging to his wife. It is a more or less permanent abandonment, not a temporary one.
What does this mean for Christians in 2020? It means that cancelling a few services to avoid spreading a very contagious virus is not a sin. This does not equal, “trampling the son of God under your foot.” It means that trying to bind Hebrews 10.25 in this case is worse than merely bad scholarship – it is binding where God has not bound. It means that, while worship is vital and important, we must focus just as much on godly living and the whole of scripture as we do this one verse.
In a world facing ever-changing circumstances, we need to be reminded of some truths about God. A great text that can help us do this is found in the writings of the Messianic prophet, Isaiah. He tells us some exciting facts about God in Isaiah 33:5-6. In brief, Isaiah reminds us of God’s transcendence (“exalted…on high”), His trustworthiness (“has filled Zion with justice and righteousness”), and His treasure (“a wealth of salvation, wisdom and knowledge; The fear of the Lord is his treasure”). In the midst of upholding God’s perfect character, the prophet makes this reassuring statement: “And He will be the stability of your times.”
In part, here is what that means to us today…
Scripture calls Him the Rock (Deut. 32:4), the shield (2 Sam. 22:31), my protection (Isa. 27:5), my shield, stronghold, and protection (2 Sam. 22:3), and a strong tower (Prov. 18:10). As Nebuchadnezzar understood, “all His works are true and His ways just” (Dan. 4:37).
Take heart. Take on the day. Take comfort and refuge. “And He will be the stability of your times.”