“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth.” 1 Corinthians 1:26
The phrase “not many of you were wise” has stuck with me the last few days as I continue to hear people say things like, “I just don’t know who to trust”. I think about Paul’s words because what he is saying is that not many people in the early church were highly educated. His overall point of the paragraph is that the Church thrives because of God, not because we are exceptional people. Paraphrasing Paul’s words for our current situation I would make that phrase, “not many of you were experts.” We have to admit there are a lot of people out there right now who act like they are experts in several different fields, and no surprise they are not. Sadly, I experience many Christians fall into this trap, and it is an easy trap to fall into, because we never realize how much we do not know. I am not an expert in subjects like medicine, politics, or economics, subjects that dominate the headlines. Thankfully, I do not have to be an expert in these areas, not because they are unimportant or less important, but because when we live in community I can stick to my expertise and allow others to have theirs. Rather, all I have to do is trust others to be doing their jobs.
There are many ways in which this plays itself out in our modern world, but let me give one practical example. When I read the news about COVID vaccine and mask mandates I must humbly recognize that I am not an expert in any of the areas of immunology, virology or even public policy and economics. I do not know whether or not masks or the vaccination are truly going to end COVID; nor do I fully understand the impact of the disease on the labor force and economy. The best I can do is listen to those who have made it their life work to study these things and evaluate whether or not the explanations provided make sense. I can also evaluate how many experts are on each side of the issue and what their level of expertise is (for instance 96% of M.D.’s are fully vaccinated meaning it is likely safe and effective). I do not have to be an expert in each field I simply have to be trusting and just wise enough to evaluate who to trust.
Consider those seeking “religious exemptions” for vaccine mandates on the grounds that they used fetal cell lines in the development. The overwhelming majority of moral theologians and ethicists (including the Roman Catholic Church under John Paul II and subsequent popes) have said the use of vaccines and other drugs which have benefited from fetal tissue is not immoral for Christians. These individuals are the ones who have invested the most time into considering such issues and they are the ones to trust. Scripture reminds us that those who teach in the name of Jesus bear the weigh of their teachings not those who humbly listen. I am thankful for the lead of such theologians since the use of fetal cell lines is so pervasive in modern medicine and medical research. I am glad I do not have to wrestle with these difficult ethical questions but can rely on the judgment of others who have carefully thought through each issue. Even though I might be uncomfortable with the reality that much of modern medicine is built using fetal cell lines, and might hope to see medical research use more ethically sources cells, my conscious is free. Further, when I listen to these experts I am teaching others how to place proper trust in people– a quality sorely lacking in our society. I show people through my humility that it is OK not to know everything and to rely on the knowledge of others.
But, you ask, how do I know which experts to trust when there are competing claims of truth. Well, when there are truly competing claims for truth and both sides seem equally legitimate, I fall back on Scripture. This is the importance of knowing your Bible, we remember Scripture to help us make the tough decisions. When there are competing claims by true experts ask yourself which one is more in line with the Scriptures. Whichever side makes a comment that sounds more like a New Testament author, follow that one. Think about many of the current debates which swirl around in the media and ask yourself what positions best fulfill the implications of these verses:
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14
These are not arbitrary verses; this is the introduction to Paul’s “Fruit of the Spirit”; these verses help the Christian order our lives in such a way that everyone around us can see the produce of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Galatians 5:13ff is fundamental to who we are as Christians, it is the evidence of God working in our lives. This means that if there are two experts who disagree side with the one who allows you to live out the command to humbly love your neighbor rather than the position which simply indulges your selfish ideas. That is the secret to knowing who to trust. God did not call us because we were great experts in a wide range of fields, God called us to love one another and thereby show the world who we serve.
Let me go back to my examples. While I do not think there are two equally legitimate groups of experts on the issues of masks and vaccines, I will at least play along. There are two sides to the issue on COVID, one is saying, “we must protect our freedom” and the other is saying, “we must protect our community.” It is not difficult to figure out which of these statements is in better agreement with Paul in Galatians. Which of these paths wants to pursue selfish ends and which seeks to love neighbor? Even if one concludes that vaccine mandates are politically a poor idea (a legitimate opinion) what is one supposed to do about receiving the vaccine and encouraging one’s surrounding community? How are we to love our neighbor and lay aside our own selfish desires in this instance? If I am humbly admitting I am not an expert then what am I to do when a true expert like Francis Collins stands up to give an opinion, particularly since he is a a devout Christian? How can I in my ignorance deny him the right of his wisdom? I have enough training in a few areas where I might be qualified to say I am a low level expert; it is extremely frustrating to listen to someone with no training or expertise attempt to discredit me. If I recognize this in my own limited expertise, it is even more important for me to humbly listen to others. Paul did not say we should be stupid or to deny all learning (though you might not know that listening to certain popular pastors). Rather, Paul warns us to humbly accept our limitations and allow God’s love shining through us to be our defining characteristic. When we do that we begin to shine in the darkness.
P.S. If you have looked at this page’s description and understand why I call it Saints & Idiots then– In the matters of COVID there are only two groups who speak with absolute certainty scientists and idiots, I am not the former may I never be the latter.