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The religious significance of Covid, part 1: pandemic response as idolatry

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15 minutes to read Understanding the religious nature of man, and the symbolic patterns he follows in worship, helps us to understand the seemingly irrational response to Covid—and the Church’s gross dereliction of her duty.

And Yahweh God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it. (Genesis 2:15)

I am fond of telling my children that everything is in Genesis. I say it so often that it has become an eye-rolling trope in our household. This does not make it any less true. Genesis is the seed from which all of Scripture grows.

Among many other things, the creation account teaches us the fundamental elements of human nature—of which two are:

  1. Man is made to worship;
  2. Worship involves hierarchy.

Both of these facts can be inferred from the language of Genesis 2:15. Dressing and keeping the garden is not mere horticultural language. The terms are laden with theological meaning, for they are used also of priestly service elsewhere in Scripture:

The two Hebrew words for “cultivate and keep” are usually translated “serve and guard” elsewhere in the Old Testament. It is true that the Hebrew word usually translated “cultivate” can refer to an agricultural task when used by itself (e.g., 2:5; 3:23). When, however, these two words…occur together in the Old Testament…they refer either to Israelites “serving” God and “guarding” God’s word…or to priests who “keep” the “service”…of the tabernacle (see Num. 3:7–8; 8:25–26; 18:5-6; 1 Chr. 23:32; Ezek. 44:14). (G. K. Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A biblical theology of the dwelling place of God (InterVarsity Press, 2004), 66–67)

Adam is placed into the garden to serve as a priest in a tabernacle. As Beale also points out, the same Hebrew verbal form used for God’s “walking back and forth” in the Garden in Genesis 3:8 also describes his presence in the tabernacle in Leviticus 26:12; Deuteronomy 23:14; 2 Samuel 7:6–7. While Adam’s service is not what we tend to think of as “religious” today, and so it doesn’t look to us like worship, Scripture nonetheless indicates with its language that all of life is worship. What you serve is what you worship, and worship begins with service (Dt 8:19; 11:16; 17:3; 29:26; 30:17).

Worship also involves hierarchy. Adam is made as priest, and we know he is also made as head (1 Cor 15:22; 1 Tim 2:12–13). Eve was not a priest in the same way that he was, and neither were their children, for a priest has authority in worship that is not granted to all people. Job offered sacrifices as the patriarch of his family and friends (Job 1:5; 42:7–9). The high priest of Israel offered sacrifices on behalf of Israel (Lev 16:15). The priests of Israel had authority to teach the law (Dt 17:8–12; Mal 2:7). Jesus is our great high priest (Heb 4:14). This is all following the pattern of Adam as patriarch and high priest of humanity—it all grows from that seed.

Because man is made to worship, and to worship in hierarchy, he will always have gods and he will always have priests. There must always be a deity above, to worship, and there must always be an authorized mediator to bring our worship to the deity—and the deity to us. This is a spiritual reality that always finds physical expression. While this reality is only truly fulfilled in Jesus, it is foundational to the nature of man, and so it cannot help but manifest anywhere man is. Thus, even if it is dressed up in vocabulary and trappings and rituals which are wildly varied, every society has its deity, and every society has its priests.

Recognizing spiritual patterns

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. (Romans 12:1–2)

In the ancient world, it was common for the king to stand in for a god. This is the basis of the plagues brought against Egypt, for example; because Pharaoh was the divine guardian of Egypt, he presumed to contend against Yahweh for dominion over the various domains of his land. In the modern day, such religious language would sound ludicrous; yet the same pattern cannot be suppressed. The state still places itself into the role of deity by its actions, for it still presumes to stop plagues in its own power. In New Zealand, for instance, the consistent message has not been treatment, and has certainly not been beseeching the God of nations named in our national anthem—but rather that if we obediently follow the state’s decrees, we can stop, eliminate, eradicate the virus, and regain the freedoms the state removed (for our protection). The state implicitly arrogates the role of deity, manifesting the pattern of the god of our society, both in its presumed power over nature, and in its presumed ownership of our rights, our freedoms, our livelihoods, and—now with “vaccine” mandates—even our very bodies.

What of the pattern of priests? How does that manifest today? In the ancient world, kings relied on appointed ministers of the deity to bolster and mediate their divine power to the people. This was achieved through authoritative utterances and approved rituals. In the modern day, of course, the language of prophets and priests and oracles and sacraments seems absurd to most; yet the pattern nonetheless continues inexorably as the state enlists scientists to be its mouthpieces: appointed representatives who are uniquely able to validate and mediate power, in the forms of proclamations and protocols.

When we understand the worshiping nature of man, we can recognize the shape of these worship patterns, regardless of how they are dressed up. We can identify masks and “vaccines,” for instance, as religious rites—and understand why so many people treat them religiously. Not in the formal, modern sense, but in the primitive, primal manner of the natural man: who perversely seeks to act out his purpose of worship by fixing his religious energy on the creation. He wears a mask as an ancient pagan might wear a charm or talisman. He separates the clean from the unclean with the sacrament of vaccination. He religiously observes rules about washing and distancing that are obviously tokenistic rather than effectual. He offers sacrifices of freedom and work to appease the virus. Having exchanged the truth of God for a lie, he worships and serves the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever amen (Rom 1:25).

Recognizing scriptural symbolism

Now, I am hardly unaware that modern Christians of sound mind at best distrust comparisons like this. But if we are to be equipped to faithfully represent God in the world, we must grow up into a full understanding of his ways—including being able to discern the difference between kooky allegorical nonsense and sound biblical pattern-recognition. We must be able to distinguish between arbitrary interpretations of physical events, and interpretations that reveal in some events universal spiritual patterns.

In other words, we must learn to tell when we are looking at something symbolic: something that is not merely a happenstance, but a physical expression of a spiritual reality.

Scriptural symbolism of this kind seems kooky to modern Christians. One critical reason for this is, they have been taught that supernatural causes are at best unknowable. When we interpret some fact or event, all we do is ask what its natural causes are. We don’t even have it on our radar to discern symbolic patterns in creation, or to ask what spiritual reality might be expressed in a fact or event.

Yet this is precisely the difference between ourselves and the authors of Scripture—and especially Jesus himself, whom we are to imitate (1 Cor 11:1).

This is too large a thesis to fully prove here, but consider some very basic examples from the gospel of John:

  • To Jesus, water is first something spiritual, and only derivatively something physical (Jn 4:7–15; 7:37–39). I.e., the physical water is an expression of a “more real” spiritual principle.
  • In the same way, food is first something spiritual, and only derivatively something physical (Jn 4:31–34; cf. Mt 16:5–12). This is a principle that Jesus doubles down on in John 6, to the utter confusion not only of his original audience, but many of his readers throughout history.
  • Following the logic of these examples, we can also conclude that when Jesus says he is the “light of the world” (Jn 8:12), he is speaking of “true light” (Jn 1:9)—something which physical light is merely a symbol of.
  • And this symbolic understanding in turn goes back to Genesis, for a spirit has no mouth, yet God “speaks” light into existence—“in the beginning was the Word” (Jn 1:1). Whatever God’s speech is, it is a spiritual reality that brings about creation, rather than what we imagine when we think of mundane speech. That is merely a physical expression—a symbol—that points back to “true speech.”

To put it simply, just as a prior heavenly reality was the pattern for the physical temple (Heb 8:5), so speech, water, food and light were invisible realities before God made them visible ones. When God says, “let there be light,” there must be something that light already means, some eternal principle that he is calling into manifestation, such that he is saying, “let this invisible reality become visible” (cf. Heb 11:3).

Scripture presupposes this symbolic view of the world to such an extent that, once you become familiar with thinking in these terms, you discover it isn’t just everywhere in the text, but in fact undergirds the entire framework of redemptive history. This is enormously uncomfortable for modern Christians, because creation has been “disenchanted” by the ironically-named Enlightenment, to the point that empirical phenomena are seldom, if ever, imbued with meaning. To take a prominent but simple example, it discomforts us considerably that David and Job both seemed to think that their mothers’ wombs were in the depths of the earth (Ps 139:15; Job 1:21). This is empirically false, and our empirical mental framework just cannot accommodate these statements in such a way that they remain meaningful. We are not trained—and indeed we resist being trained—to recognize that David and Job’s words are symbolically true: that the empirical phenomena of wombs and graves, and indeed of fetuses and corpses, are expressions of a more fundamental and unified spiritual pattern.

Such mysteries are too deep for us. Yet Scripture demands that we meet it on its own terms—not ours. We are to “put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him” (Col 3:10).

Babies, bathwater, and conspiracy theories

Modern Christians are also suspicious of comparisons between modern secular events and ancient religious patterns because it smacks of a conspiracy theory. But Scripture requires that we be discerning and shrewd in our pattern recognition—not naïve and gullible. Calling something a “conspiracy theory” is a tactic used by liars. It is designed to short-circuit inquiry and discernment, by cool-shaming other people into accepting a particular view. But we should assess every case on its merits.

Moreover, labeling something a conspiracy theory, or misinformation, is often psychological projection. For instance, the Sanhedrin tried to do this with the resurrection, because the conspiracy was actually theirs (Mt 28:11–15). The devil is a liar, and his children do his will (Jn 8:44). Scripture is explicit that spiritual realities are behind secular events: that “our wrestling is not against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world-rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12; cf. 3:10)—foremost of whom is “the prince of the powers of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the sons of disobedience” (Eph 2:2), in whose power the whole world lies (1 Jn 5:19; cf. Jn 14:30; 2 Cor 4:4; Mt 13:19; Dan 10:13,20 etc). (To understand this in more detail, see my series on the kingdom of God, especially part 2: the divine council.)

When Scripture plainly tells us that spiritual beings exercise great power over world leaders and events, to the point that it describes these beings as princes, authorities, rulers and dominions, what else can that be called but a kind of conspiracy? And why would we automatically think it absurd for patterns to emerge in world events that look like efforts to consolidate and establish such demonic rule—especially when they manifest in religious ways that resemble secularized idolatry? (Indeed, we ought to do away with the word secular altogether, as we almost always use it to treat as real something which is fundamentally false.)

This is not to say that many conspiracy theories aren’t just plain nuts. You only need to watch Ancient Aliens to know that. But it is to say that we should assess every case on its merits—not on the merits of the person declaring it a conspiracy theory.

The scandal of Christians participating in lies

…and have no part in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but rather even expose them (Ephesians 5:11).

I have laid out some foundational presuppositions that Christians ought to have, in order to exercise wisdom when facing tumultuous times like these. “Know ye not that we shall judge angels?” (1 Corinthians 6:3) Unfortunately, the modern church has grown dim-witted and hard of hearing; we can barely sip spiritual milk, let alone choke down meat. And that is why you can find craven skubalon like this seeping out of nearly every church today:

Would Jesus wear a mask, by “Pastor” John Lestock

Notice the two questions this piece simply refuses to ask:

  1. Do masks significantly protect against viral transmission?
  2. If they do, is the risk from Covid serious enough to justify wearing them?

The same questions can be applied, mutatis mutandis, to the issue of “vaccines” as well. But for now, let us consider masks.

Anyone with two brain cells to rub together can deduce that if smoke particles from a cigarette will get to your nose through your mask, then virus particles, which are astronomically smaller, will certainly do the same. We have all by now seen the videos of people vaping through masks to demonstrate how easily those deadly virus-carrying aerosols pass through them. Even if we did not have an embarrassment of studies and comprehensive analyses to tell us that masks are ineffective, including the gold standard of scientific research—randomized control trials—common sense should tell us what they would find:

This study is the first RCT of cloth masks, and the results caution against the use of cloth masks. This is an important finding to inform occupational health and safety. Moisture retention, reuse of cloth masks and poor filtration may result in increased risk of infection. (source)

We also now have conclusive numbers on the actual danger represented by COVID-19: they are all in the ballpark of an infection fatality rate between 0% and 0.3% for anyone under 70 (median 0.05%). In other words, even if you are infected, you generally have a 99.95% chance of surviving—and that’s according to official stats, which are certainly overblown, given how many deaths are attributed to Covid when it was not the cause of death. (We recently had a man shot to death recorded as a Covid casualty.)

But years of training in political correctness have taken their toll: the requirement to not notice the obvious is now a Pavlovian reflex. You don’t get to the point of convincing an entire culture to pretend that the world is ending and that breathing through a piece of fabric can prevent it, without first getting them to practice with smaller lies. Which brings us to the chief issue:

To wear a mask is to partake in the lie that masks work and that the world is ending. It is to participate in a plainly spiritual deception, the evident intent of which is to cynically manipulate you by appeals to safety into harming your neighbor and fragmenting your community.

Why would you participate in such a lie? There can be overweening reasons to engage in falsehood—in certain contexts. As there is just killing, there is also just deception. But the circumstances of both for the individual (as opposed to the judiciary) are quite similar. Killing is permissible against someone who forfeits his right to life by making himself your mortal enemy (e.g. Ex 22:2–3). Deception, by analogy, is permissible against someone who forfeits his right to the truth—but this must also be by making himself some kind of enemy. Both killing and deception are in some sense an act of war (Pr 25:18). Indeed, victory in warfare is achieved by killing, aided by deception—whether that be misdirection or camouflage or espionage or propaganda.

This is why bearing false witness against your neighbor is strictly condemned; it is, as Doug Wilson puts it, an act of civil war against him. Satan was a murderer and a liar from the beginning—deceit was his strategy for destroying God’s viceroys. But by the same token, when warfare is righteous, deception can be too. Rahab understood that she was making war on behalf of Israel against the king of Jericho when she lied about the spies (Josh 2). Shiphrah and Puah knew that Pharaoh was warring against Israel, and were rewarded by God for defeating him through deception (Ex 1:19–21).

Understanding the biblical ethics of deception underscores the scandal of Christians today wearing masks. Instead of making war on Pharaoh by lying to him for their neighbors, believers today are making war on their neighbors by lying to them for Pharaoh! They participate in the state’s lies simply to stay out of trouble; they practice deceit as a way of hiding; they shuffle into the ranks of Satan’s slave army to escape his notice.

Christians, cowed and cowardly, are defecting en masse from the Lord’s side, in the hope that they can avoid risking open war.

But open war is upon them, whether they would risk it or not.

We know that no one who practices deceit against God or neighbor shall dwell in the house of the Lord (Ps 101:7). So when we are tempted to trust in going along with a lie to keep us safe, we must remember how that worked out for Israel:

Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with Sheol are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us; for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves: therefore thus saith the Lord Yahweh, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner-stone of sure foundation: he that believeth shall not be in haste. And I will make justice the line, and righteousness the plummet; and the hail shall sweep away the refuge of lies, and the waters shall overflow the hiding-place. And your covenant with death shall be annulled, and your agreement with Sheol shall not stand; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, then ye shall be trodden down by it. (Isaiah 28:15–18)

This is thy lot, the portion measured unto thee from me, saith Yahweh; because thou hast forgotten me, and trusted in falsehood. Therefore will I also uncover thy skirts upon thy face, and thy shame shall appear. I have seen thine abominations, even thine adulteries, and thy neighings, the lewdness of thy whoredom, on the hills in the field. Woe unto thee, O Jerusalem! thou wilt not be made clean; how long shall it yet be? (Jeremiah 13:25–27)

It cannot be overstated that Isaiah and Jeremiah consider participating in this kind of lie to be not merely a violation of the ninth commandment, but also of the first. Remember, all of life is worship. The state is following the pattern of deity, with scientists as its priests, and masking as a rite of obedience and submission.

To wear a mask is to signal obedience to this tyrannical spiritual power set up against the God of heaven. It is to serve the state—and the powers behind the state. It is idolatry. A man cannot have two masters. “Serve Yahweh with fear, and rejoice with trembling” (Ps 2:11), “but even if ye should suffer for righteousness’ sake, blessed are ye: and fear not their fear, neither be troubled” (1 Pet 3:14). “But I will warn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him” (Lk 12:5).

One of Scripture’s repeated refrains—to people living in much more unstable and perilous times than we—is “fear not.” For instance, Isaiah 41:10:

Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God; I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

This sentiment is echoed in the glorious hymn “How Firm A Foundation:”

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to his foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no, never, no, never forsake!

God can never forsake us. It is only we who can forsake him. We do this when we forsake the truth rather than acting the man to stand firm in it—for Truth is a Man (Jn 14:6). Hence the uniform testimony of Scripture is that God hates liars and cowards. We know that if we love evil more than good, and if we love lying rather than to speak righteousness…God will destroy us for ever (Ps 52:3,5); and we know that if we shrink back, his soul has no pleasure in us (Heb 10:38)—which is why the fearful, and unbelieving, and idolaters, and all liars, their part shall be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone; which is the second death (Rev 21:8).

Notice again the connection between fearfulness, unbelief, idolatry, and false witness. To be fearful is to be faithless. To be faithless is to replace God with another power in your life. And today, as throughout history, the means the devil uses to tempt us into this…is lies.

The early Christians died rather than sprinkle a pinch of incense to Caesar. Yet what is a pinch of incense after all? They knew it was everything, because it symbolized submission to another power than Christ. It was everything, because it signaled that the state is not under Christ’s lordship.

If he is not lord of Caesar, he is not Lord of All.

Your face belongs to Christ.

If he is not lord of your face, he is not Lord of All.

 6 comments

Dylan

>When God says, “let there be light,” there must be something that light already means

what do you mean by this? if i say “let there be house,” the house isn’t there until i build it

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Right, but your question illustrates the problem we have today in even conceiving of how Scripture’s authors thought about things. When you say, “Let there be a house,” there is what you might call a “spiritual principle” of a house that you have in mind. To say “Let there be a house,” would be literally meaningless noise if the concept of a house did not already exist. And Scripture wants us to understand that this concept is not nothing, but higher than the actual house built. An individual house is an instantiation of a principle that is greater than it.

Dylan

but it sounds to me like what you’re describing is that “light already existed before god invented it.” which… that dont make sense

qaz qaz

Read 1 Cor. 8.

Paul doesn’t say that to us there is one God because we follow him and not others.

Paul says that to us there is one God because we understand he is the creator of all things. For a knowledgeable believer to fall into idolatry he would first have to lose the knowledge that of the Triune God are all things and by him are all things.

I could kiss a statue of Baphomet and it doesn’t mean anything because I already know there is one creator. However it can mean something to a weaker brother who doesn’t have the knowledge I do, so for their sakes it is not prudent for me to do things like that.

I repeat: read 1 Cor. 8.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

And yet Paul warns us against becoming partakers with demons, and John warns us, “keep yourself from idols.”

You sound like the knowledgeable Christians that Paul speaks against in 1 Corinthians 8. By your logic, I suppose, you would be quite happy to offer a pinch of incense to Caesar.

It may help you sleep at night, but God is not mocked.