Unseen Realities

This is still all so surreal to me. It seems like an imagined scenario, movie re-enactment, or large-scale immersive game, more than a real event or legitimate threat. Yet here we are. I can’t help but think about this unseen, invisible virus as illuminating two biblical ideas. We talk a lot at Generations about moving beyond theories about God to reality with God. There’s an opportunity for us here to learn from what is reordering our whole world and restructuring every aspect of our lives. If we will have eyes to see, or perhaps ears to hear as Scripture implores, I wonder if these abstract theological concepts might take on more concrete significance for us.

Spiritual Warfare

Most Christians are familiar with Spiritual Warfare as a category. We tend toward two extremes though. Either we are inordinately fascinated with the spiritual realm, or functionally dismissive of the spiritual realm.

For those who live on the fascination end of the spectrum, there is a warning in this pandemic. We can become paralyzed with fear and stricken with panic that renders us unfruitful and ineffective. We can obsess so much over spiritual entities that we perpetuate obsession and anxieties in others which project ominous and inevitable darkness and evil onto their lives. This can unwittingly and unhelpfully burden people beyond what is reasonable.

Or, on the other side, it can give an outsized sense of control over the spiritual dimension. If we pray enough, quote Scripture enough, declare the right truth with the right “umph” at the right moment, than spiritual darkness is kept at bay and spiritual victory is ours for the taking. Some of us are drawn to a sensationalized vision of spiritual warfare where we are slaying dragons with mic drop moments of asserting Jesus’ name in the face of our enemy. But this puts a burden on our shoulders which we cannot bear and a battle in our hands that we cannot win.
For the functionally dismissive, there is a warning too. We affirm the spiritual world as real, but that has no bearing on our daily lives. We cognitively consent to it’s existence, and even it’s seriousness, but we won’t practically we account for it by making any adjustments. So we recognize the Devil and demons as actual entities, but they don’t make any actual difference in how we operate. As with this COVID-19, acknowledging spirituality categorically while ignoring it practically and personally is to our peril.

Spiritual Warfare is above our pay grade, the way pandemics are above governing officials pay grade. We have some insights into this world from Scripture, and we can see it’s effects in the material world, but we are in over our heads and out of control. With Covid-19, we have some adjustments we can make. Social distancing, washing hands, not gathering in crowds, staying quarantined if you’re sick, wearing a mask, and other such measures can be employed to limit the spread of the virus. Similarly, we have prayer, Scripture, worship, fellowship, repentance for sin, faith in the gospel, obedience to Jesus and other things we can do to curb the negative effects of spiritual warfare.

But ultimately, this virus is only eradicated if God has mercy. Science isn’t winning this battle. Maybe it could theoretically, but not in reality. Science isn’t enough. And as it relates to the spiritual war in which we are all combatants, there is a power and force at work that we can’t control. It is beyond us. We are not able to defeat this enemy by any of our own efforts. We need the intervention of God’s mercy. The outcome is sovereignly orchestrated. We can fight. In fact, we are responsible to fight. But only God secures victory.

I often point out from the world of the Bible how spiritual realities run concurrently alongside material realities. They are simultaneously occurring and equally real. But our attention is heavily freighted toward only one dimension of reality. In some ways that is unavoidable. It is difficult to take an imperceptible and as of yet non-materialized threat so seriously that it overrides what we can see with our own eyes, feel with our own hands and hear with our own ears.

But to ignore unseen realities, as with this pandemic, is to accelerate what threatens us and to perpetuate exposure to sickness and death for ourselves and those closest to us. There is a spiritual war raging in our world and over our lives and spiritual darkness that is spreading throughout this world. Paul is clear that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers. The conflict that we are caught up in is not material and visible, but immaterial and invisible. There are powerful forces at work around us and within us which seem imaginary. But that invisible reality is changing the landscape of the visible reality. In other words, we can’t see it happening, but we can see its effects. And we should at least take those seriously and adjust accordingly.

Things are not okay in our world. And all of life is being reconsidered and deliberately reoriented. What if we took the reality of spiritual darkness this seriously. So that as God’s people, we humbly reconsider and deliberately reorient our lives to keep ourselves from sin, its effects on us and its impact on others. And that leads us to the second category.

The Disease of Sin

Sin is not a popular topic in the world. Tragically, it’s a largely avoided topic in churches. We want people to feel good about themselves, about their lives and about God too. Mentioning sin is a barrier to those positive vibes we want to send out. Sin carries some baggage with it, like guilt, shame, regret and unpleasant emotions. We’d rather take away the burden of those negative emotions by employing euphemisms like imperfect, broken, or weakness. We want to remove personal responsibility so they don’t feel bad… that would be detrimental to psychological health, emotional balance and overall self-esteem. We are far more committed to the comfortable death of the patient than to an uncomfortable treatment that restores their life and health.

The state of the church and the state of the world, prior to Covid-19, testifies to the far deadlier virus of sin, which has infected far more millions of people. Our world is characterized by injustice, outrage, hostility, corruption, exploitation, greed and violence on a massive scale. If you drill down to the personal, we’re characterized by selfishness, blame, control, deception, demand, anger, resentment, immorality and self-righteousness. These are evidences of sin, which is at its core, our diminishing of God’s glory and and disregard for God’s authority in favor of an inflation self-importance and justified self-indulgence.

Sin is the disease that has taken root in every human heart and which grips the soul with unrelenting respiratory issues so that we can’t breathe in the deepest recesses of our person. The only cure is Christ. And the only means of receiving Him is through repentance and faith… and even then we need a daily booster shot of the gospel as antidote to keep this disease from spreading to every part of our lives destroying the other people we love.

But ignoring the disease doesn’t eradicate the disease. It just sentences everyone to the inevitable death this disease imposes on everyone. And God’s epidemiologists and medical professionals positioned to administer care for this disease is the Church. Christians are supposed to be the personnel equipped to diagnose and treat the disease of sin, but we’ve somehow decided that it would be better to give people the pretend good news that they’re all good, rather than real good news that though they have a terminal illness, God has made a cure available.

Instead of treating the deadliness of sin with the antidote of the gospel, we inoculate people to the gospel and leave them to their deadness. We only give them enough of the gospel with guarantees God’s approval, love and okayness toward them and their life, so that they build up immunity to the fullness of the gospel, which requires repentance for sin and faith in Jesus, because God is not okay us on any other terms. Sin is every bit as real as Covid-19. It’s effects are more widespread and far worse. It’s monumentally irresponsible and dreadfully unloving to suppress this truth in the name of politeness, political correctness or social palatability.

Let’s love people enough to at least offer the good news that Jesus took this disease upon himself and suffered the full bloody death it brings, so that we would have a cure. It’s their prerogative to refuse the remedy, but it’s our highest responsibility to at least offer the treatment.

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