Last Sunday there was a visitor in my church and he asked me if I had to wear the mask I had on. I replied, “No, I do it to set an example.” His response was, “Well I trust the Lord is my shepherd, and he will take care of me.” I responded that I wore the mask to protect people from any infection I might spread and his response was, “I trust the Lord will protect you too.” I knew there are such people out there who believe this, but he is the first person to say it to my face. Ironically, he fastened his seat belt and drove away; apparently God will protect us from germs, but not other drivers? At the outset I want to be extremely clear, I am not criticizing the man because he failed to wear a mask. I am criticizing the man for hiding behind an ignorant an unreasonable piety, which actually shows how small he thinks God is.
In the moment, I recognized that I would not make that man listen to me, and that is why I did not try to persuade him of his utter ignorance. I do not mean he is ignorant of medical science; I do not claim any expertise in that realm, and so apart from saying those regarded as the leading experts in this field recommend masks, I cannot make judgments. No, I mean this man’s stunning ignorance about what the Bible says about God. Genesis 1 shows God making an ordered creation, and numerous times in the Bible we are told to consider the order of creation and how that order reflects on God. One of the enduring legacies of Enlightenment thinking about God is that God is rational and so is creation, this means science is possible. Yes, much of modern science originated from the realization that a God who does not change will create a cosmos which follows rules.
The fact that creation follows rules means we can understand creation and protect ourselves from some of the more negative aspects– including viruses. It also means that as we pray for relief from this plague, God can send relief through the inspiration of a medical scientist. Christians have long accepted that the world is well ordered, and that God desires to, and seemingly enjoys, working through humanity to help the world. Now, if these are true concepts, and I have no reason to deny them, then as a Christian I should accept that medical science is an answer to my prayer. Yep, you prayed and God’s inspiration of doctors could be your answer.
It is a tragedy that there have been so many who have died as a result of this plague. And I believe it has been an even greater tragedy that many Christians have balked at medical scientists who are trying to find an answer. Some Christians have been completely ignorant in this time, failing to remember the legacy of reason which entered into Western thought because of their spiritual ancestors.
Rather, like this man who I met, many Christians want to put God to an unnecessary test. Here we should think of Jesus’ rejection of the temptation to put unreasonable conditions on God (Matthew 4:5-6). What does it say about us if we simply resign fellow believers to God’s hands without using that great gift of our intelligence. What am I to tell my friends whose congregations are suffering from the loss of valued members? Does this mean they lacked faith? Or simply God chose not to heal? I find those ideas ring hollow right now. Obviously, there will always be tragedy’s happening around us for which we have no answers, and even in the midst of the pandemic we lack answers. And yes, I need to trust God for my protection, including in a time of pandemic. However, does that justify us not trying our level best to work with God in all avenues we have to bring healing?
I believe, like so many others, this individual was hiding behind a cute pious phrase. The reality is he simply does not care, he does not want to be inconvenienced by wearing a mask and so he is trying to sound like he trusts God. However, not only does he not sound pious he sounds like the most immature kind of Christian. Again, I am not criticizing the man for his stance on medical advice. What makes his statement wrong is that he tacitly admitted masks work, but somehow our medical understanding is not a gift from God. Rather than such a confused response, we should respond that medical science is sometimes flawed, but pray that God will use our flawed efforts to bring healing. We should recognize that God gave us reason to understand the world and pray that God would work through that reason so we can better understand this world. We must admit God is working through our medical ability, honoring our endeavors in science, and working through our doctors. Why do I wear a mask, because I am showing an example listening to doctors who I think God can work through to bring an end to a plague.