The responses I’ve seen from my brothers and sisters in the evangelical Christian Church to the Covid-19 pandemic have often been difficult for me to understand. Conspiracy theories, unadulterated anger and end times prophecies seem to have been the rule rather than the exception. These interactions have drawn me to a study of a similar people highlighted in Hebrews 3 – a people who “hardened their hearts” in a time of testing.
The central message of Jesus’ story was that a new “Kingdom of Heaven” was available on earth and God-followers no longer had to live in their old, oppressive religious mindset. Jesus saw the pain of that religion and was offering an “abundant life,” free from a set of religious rules and law. The Book of Hebrews compared this change to the Old Testament story of the Israelites leaving slavery in Egypt to travel to a new, “Promised Land.”
…as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”Hebrews 3:7-11
In this ancient story, the Israelites were freed from slavery in Egypt but suffered difficulty in embracing a new way of life. The people would speak of dumping their leader Moses and heading back to the slavery in Egypt, determining the oppressive past they’d known was better than the murky new freedom that lay ahead. Therefore God did not allow them to “enter the rest” of receiving the promise of this new way to live. Jesus found a similar response to his offering of new life, as we’re told in the Biblical book of John:
— “Again the Jews were divided because of (Jesus’) words. Many of them were saying, ‘He has a demon and he’s crazy. Why do you listen to him?’ Others were saying, ‘These aren’t the words of someone who is demon-possessed. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’”John 10:19-21
At different times the religious people of Jesus’ day wanted to stone him, throw him over a cliff and impugn his reputation by calling him a drunkard and sinner. They preferred the known, controllable life of oppressive rules to the unknown world based upon loving God and loving our neighbors/enemies as ourselves. That generation also failed to receive God’s promised “rest.”
Christianity today, far too often, resembles the hard-hearted lawgivers, basing a God-following life on a Christianity based upon a new set of rules and laws and norms: following politically conservative causes and officials; holding a deep homage to patriotism, law enforcement and military; opposing any civil liberty we deem opposed to a fundamentalist interpretation of the bible; distrust of any institution we deem not to hold our political view (such as social programs that benefit the poor and marginalized,) media, schools, and science. Add in an “end times” belief that Christians are to anticipate an evermore evil and dark world, with murky worldwide schemers and you see how today’s Christians are being enticed to “harden their hearts” to anything other than the exclusive, divisive Christianity they’ve always known.
There is a new, freer way to think available to Christians today. A life that frees us from an oppressive theological/ideological belief system and allows us to love those who believe differently than us with acceptance and not vilification. Heaven’s giving us permission to mourn with the marginalized and rejoice as their voice is heard. We can be free from the idea that our ideology must be imposed on our country “or else.” All God is asking of us is to soften our hearts to the idea of a new way to see and understand.
Jesus called God-followers to a self-sacrificing life that was filled with the joy of accepting and loving people, relieved of the need to wage war defending our own value and rights – a life that would “heal our land” (2 Chronicles 7:14.) Filling ourselves with right-wing media and giving into conspiracy theories about masks and vaccines and worldwide pedophilia rings isn’t leaning into the free life God has for us. Separating ourselves from all who disagree and crying “persecution” at every interaction and conflict isn’t advancing the Kingdom of the Gospel nor making disciples.
If we allow our eyes to be opened, we can see an amazing world, with amazing people who can teach us new things about ourselves. We can see God’s creation as good and not as dark and scary with evil people lurking all about. We can see a world where we can truly enter into God’s plan for “rest” in being able to love the creator and loving those created around us.
There is a more abundant life for those willing to have eyes to see and ears to hear.