Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy,
and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.
— Isaiah 8:12 —
In our church, one of our elders often reminds us that Isaiah 8:12 is a verse that neither confirms nor denies the presence of a conspiracy. In our world there are many reports that are fake news, and because of that there are many who also discount true news. By the same token, there are reports that some label conspiracies that turn out to be true. And conversely, there are “true” reports that turn out to be false. In short, since the world fell by believing Satan’s Primordial Lie—“you can be like God”—we have lived in a world of lies, half-truths, conspiracies, and fake news. And in that world, the people of the truth must learn not just how to tell the truth (Exod. 20:16), but how to spot a lie.
In the original context of Isaiah 8:12, the Lord has told Isaiah to “fear God, not human armies” (G. V. Smith, Isaiah 1–39, 220). In the historical context, God has promised to preserve Judah, even if the king has foolishly rejected God’s help. In that context, the Lord says,
Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. 13 But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. 14 And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. 15 And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (Isaiah 8:12–15)
In Isaiah 8, the particular sin is fearing man (i.e., human armies) instead of fearing God. But the enduring principle is fearing God according to what God has said. Again, in this case, God has promised a way of salvation, and Isaiah is calling the people to trust him and not human armies. In another context, however, fearing God might mean something else. In the case of Habakkuk, fearing God meant submitting to the coming destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon. In the case of Jeremiah, fearing God meant surrendering to Babylon and not fighting God’s instrument of judgment, as strange as it was to do so. Accordingly, the command to fear God does not always have the same application for God’s people.
Put this all together, and it is a foolish principle to fear God and never recognize or resist the threat of bad actors. Moreover, it is a foolish principle to read Isaiah 8:12 and conclude that everything that people call conspiracy is errant. History teaches us that rulers plot evil schemes (i.e., conspiracies) and that nations conspire together to accomplish wicked ends. Even more, sacred history—the history found in Scripture—teaches the same thing.
Echoing the first sin, the number of times that God’s people have been lied to—by their leaders, by their neighbors, by their prophets, and by themselves—cannot be counted with both hands. While the law of God can be numbered on our fingertips, and digit number 9 stands for “Do not bear false witness,” the number of times God’s people have believed false witnesses is too numerous to count. And thus, we should learn from Scripture how God’s people have believed lies and become liars, so that we who walk in the truth would not believe lies.
The Sin of Believing Lies
Douglas Wilson wrote about this a few months ago, and ever since, his observations from Scripture have stuck in my mind. He observes that “Christians certainly know that it is a sin to go around telling lies, but not so many know that it is also a sin to believe lies.” In context, his argument is a response to the ever changing testimony of Anthony Fauci and the school of prophets who follow him. More germane to this post, however, is the biblical reporting that follows. He writes,
Our race fell into sin because they believed a lie (Gen. 3:4-6). The Roman Christians were told to be on guard against those who with flattering words deceive the naive. It is a sin to be naive like that (Rom. 16:17-18). The Colossians were warned against empty deceit (Col. 2:8). As condemnation, God sent a strong delusion on certain individuals so that they would believe a lie. This was because they refused to love the truth (2 Thess. 2:9-13). The Galatians were rebuked for believing falsehoods (Gal. 3:1). [And] Joshua and his men fell for the deception posed by the men of Gibeon because they did not consult the Lord (Josh 9:14).
Clearly, not believing lies is as biblical as not spreading them. And thus, discerning truth from error in the things we hear and believe and pass on is a Christian virtue. Not believing lies is not something that promises to be fool-proof, but it is something we are called to pursue. Speaking honestly about this, Wilson continues:
If we are going to be reasonable people, I think we have to allow for some instances of deception that can occur where the one lied to really is innocent—where an accomplished hypocrite manages to appear righteous before men (Matt. 23:28). But the passages cited above show that the deceived are frequently complicit in their own deception. They go along in ways they shouldn’t. This pandemic was just such a situation. Believing a lie is culpable when the levers and handles that the liar uses are themselves culpable—those levers and handles being things like fears, lusts, gullibility, ignorance, and so on.
We will pick up the pandemic below as an example of this principle that we must not believe lies, but for now I want to ground this principle deeper in Scripture and to find one example of spitting out fake news followed by another example of swallowing hook, line, and sinker. Ironically, this example is found in the same chapter (1 Kings 13) and in the same prophet (the unnamed man of God who warns Jeroboam of a coming judgment). I point to this example, because one of the best way to learn how to discern truth from falsehood is to watch how it is done and how it is isn’t. And when it occurs in the same person, it shows us how vulnerable all of us are to believing lies, even if we have a track record of truth.
So, without giving a full exposition, I will introduce the man of God who rejected one lie and swallowed another. And from these two incidents, I believe we can find help for walking wisely in our day of secular sacraments and government sponsored scientism. Again, Isaiah 8 is correct: not everything you hear is a conspiracy, but don’t make the absolutizing error of believing that nothing is a conspiracy either. We must remember that no matter what we are told, fearing God is our first priority. And putting God first means, we must learn how to spot fakery, lest we become liars ourselves.
Rejecting Fake News, Swallowing Fake News, and Knowing How to Tell the Difference
In 1 Kings 13, we find an example of God’s man rejecting fake news, only to follow that brave act of obedience with an immediate denial of God, as he swallows up another false report. Here’s the plotline.
After Jeroboam, king of Israel, builds two altars with two golden calves in 1 Kings 12, the Lord sends a prophet to pronounce God’s judgment on Jeroboam’s wickedness. This prophet is introduced in verse 1 as the “a man of God,” and throughout, this title (“man of God)” is repeated fourteen times (vv. 4, 5, 6 [2x], 7, 8, 11, 12, 14 [2x], 21, 26, 29, 31). Peter Leithart has observed, this nameless man of God serves an archetype for the rest of 1–2 Kings (cf. 1 Kgs. 17:18, 24; 20:28; 2 Kgs. 1:9–13; 4:7; etc.). In these books, God continues to send prophets (men of God) to rebuke the wicked kings of Israel and Judah and call them back to the Lord.
In this first instance, the man comes to Jeroboam and announces that his idolatrous altar will be torn down (vv. 2–3). In response, Jeroboam seizes the prophet, but not before his hand is paralyzed and his altar is broken in two (vv. 4–5). Struck down, the king pleads for the prophet to pray for healing (v. 6). The man of God obliges and the king is healed. With self-interested gratitude, the king invites the man of God to dine with him, to which the man of God replies, “If you give me half your house, I will not go in with you. And I will not eat bread or drink water in this place, for so was it commanded me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘You shall neither eat bread nor drink water nor return by the way that you came’” (vv. 8–9). So far, so good. The narrative reports that the man of God departs.
From these first ten verses, we see that the prophet discharges his duty, escapes danger, and avoids the temptation to dine with the king. Remembering the Word of the Lord, he retains his loyalty to God and refuses the king’s “gracious” offer. Though the prophet’s refusal might not seem remarkable, it does contradict human nature. Made in the image of a God, man aspires for glory; and made to rule over the earth, human nature aspires for dominion. Accordingly, any invitation to rise to the king’s table is naturally attractive (cf. Prov. 25:7). Therefore, it takes moral courage and genuine faith to reject the “treasures of Egypt” and invite reproach as a true follower of God (Heb. 11:25). Accordingly, such obedience depends upon rejecting false invitations by remembering what God has commanded.
In the last year, this has been more difficult than usual. Extenuating circumstances, i.e., a global pandemic, have invited churches and church leaders to gather online, abandon singing, divide the church into clean and unclean, and hide the image of God with various masking protocols. The rationale is that we are doing all of this out of love for neighbor, but in the process the command to love, which fulfills the law, has run roughshod over the law of God and Christ’s commands to gather (Heb. 10:24–25; 12:22–24), sing (Eph. 5:18–20), show hospitality (Rom. 12:9–21), visit the sick (James 5:14), and greet one another with physical affection (i.e., a holy kiss).
In short, unlike the man of God in his refusal to take the king’s meat, many in our day have followed the science and not followed a number of biblical imperatives. And while science qua science can and should help us make informed decisions, we have failed to see how science as scientism has become a cult of its own and one that is doing irreparable damage to many in Christ’s body. And how is it doing damage? By offering cultural recommendations that match up with political interests far more than the facts themselves. And this brings us to the second part of 1 Kings 13 and the deadly deception that the man of God swallowed.
If the man of God rejected the false invitation of King Jeroboam’s table, he did not reject the next invitation to dinner. Following his departure from the king, the man of God encountered “an old prophet who lived in Bethel” (v. 11). We are not told much about this man, except that he contented himself to live in a city where Jeroboam has built one of his two altars of idolatry. In that city, word spread quickly of what happened when the man pronounced a judgment on Jeroboam and the altar broke in two. In response, when this old prophet heard the news, he went in search of the man of God (vv. 12–14). Finding him, he invited him home to break bread. Like before, the man of God refused, acknowledging God’s command to avoid eating or drinking on his journey (vv. 16–17). At this point the old prophet springs his trap.
In verse 18, he replies, “I also am a prophet as you are, and an angel spoke to me by the word of the Lord, saying, ‘Bring him back with you into your house that he may eat bread and drink water.’” Sounds legitimate enough, but the narrator reveals the old prophet’s wicked intent. Verse 18 concludes, “But he lied to him.” Tragically, not recognizing the falsehood of the old prophet, nor obeying what God’s Word had said to him, the man of God “went back with him and ate bread in his house and drank water” (v. 19). At this meal, the false prophet reveals the truth. He delivers a true word from God this time, and he announces the impending death of the disobedient man of God (vv. 20–22). The story proceeds then to follow the man on his way, and the last thing we see is that the man of God is killed by a lion, because he had disobeyed God (vv. 23ff).
The takeaway of this deadly disobedience is not to get direct counsel on how to hear from God. There are many differences between the way God spoke to the prophets, compared to the way he has spoken to us in the Son (see Heb. 1:1–2). Still, because we live in a world of false prophets and false spirits, we do need to be careful in following messages that bring false reports. As 1 John 4:1–6 tells us, we must test the spirits and those who are influenced by them. We must avoid following those that bring half-truths, and we must remember what God’s Word says and that Christ’s covenant stands unchanged in sickness and in health. Indeed, this is the great challenge of our media-saturated age, and it is where the church has stumbled.
In attempt to find a place at the table during these difficult days of COVID, many church leaders have done everything in their power to go along with what their governing authorities have said, done, dictated, and demanded. How else have so many churches willingly closed their doors and questioned those who question closing. Thankfully, there are exceptions, but they are not plentiful. More often, with sincere intentions and a track record of truth before them, many church leaders have carried water for those who are leading the COVID response effort—an effort that is equal parts sincere and subversive.
For starters, “follow the science” has been championed by bio-political authorities imposing lockdowns and vaccine mandates. But these are the same people who do not “follow the science” when it comes to biological sex, transgenderism, or the taking of life in the womb. If we are to follow the Apostles Paul and John, two authors of Scripture who identify false teachers by their unrighteous living, then we should be skeptical of leaders who promise to save our lives, when they are equally committed to destroying innumerable lives through gender reassignment surgery or abortion.
Moreover, there have been too many maneuvers that have shown that political interests are more important than health. Remember when COVID was still in its infancy and thousands of doctors and more than a few lockdown mayors defended the BLM marches? Similarly, the ongoing press to vaccinate children (who are more likely to die from drowning than from COVID) shows the willingness to force their biopolitical agenda on the masses. Something other than science is driving this.
And this is the point: the whole COVID response effort is not filled with honest intentions or open communication. If it was, then the social media giants would not be censoring information about treatments that do not fit the narrative. Moreover, if truth was driving discussions about vaccines, then there would be greater discussion about adverse effects and best practices for individuals. And if politicians were genuinely seeking the good of the nation, they would think comprehensively about the long-term effects of crushing the economy and incentivizing people to staying at home. Human life is more than not dying; it entails a whole host of interpersonal activities that always come with risk. Yes, health matters and COVID kills, but there is something strikingly odd about the way our world has panicked in response to this virus.
And this brings me back to the church. It is one thing for a secular world, who has no hope of eternity, to respond to COVID the way they are. It’s another thing for the church, who gathers every Sunday to worship a resurrected king, to do the same. I am not saying we should not care for our neighbor or the immunocompromised in our midst. A long time ago, I signed the Great Barrington Declaration, and I still believe the common sense approach of that statement to COVID is the best plan. But I am saying churches need to remember what God has said about what it means to be human, what it means to follow Christ, and what it means to be the church. Too many have treated the last two years as a special COVID dispensation, and in the process we have sat down to eat with those who those who have made science a religion. And instead of critically discerning what is true and what is not, we have swallowed it all.
To return to my opening point. I am not saying that COVID is a conspiracy. My lungs are still not back to normal after partaking of COVID for three weeks. And I am not denying the pain this virus has caused; I know too many who have gotten COVID and died from it. No, what I am arguing is that the way this virus has been interpreted is itself doing harm, and those in the church who are committed to telling the truth have not done enough to vet the data that is promoted by all those in power.
Spotting the Falsehood in the ‘Facts’
Let me get more specific and more controversial. Part of the problem with the COVID storyline is the way scientism has overshadowed science. In his insightful piece on the subject, Just Follow the Science: The Cult of Science and Covid-19, Andy Wilson draws on C.S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy to show how elites employ science to advance their political and religious aims. He writes,
Lewis challenged the notion that having expert credentials makes one deserving of unquestioning obedience. As Aeschliman puts it, Lewis “resented and opposed the implicit claims of both scientists and ‘humanists’ to moral superiority over the common man” (Michael D. Aeschliman, The Restoration of Man: C.S. Lewis and the Continuing Case Against Scientism, 33). Ordinary people have the natural right and ability to evaluate the claims and proposals made by experts because there are objective standards of truth and goodness, and these standards are intelligible to all people in the natural law. To deny this is to require that ordinary people subject themselves to the tyranny of those who have a reductionistic view of life. G.K. Chesterton put it well when he quipped, “If the ordinary man may not discuss existence, why should he be asked to conduct it?” (Cited in Aeschliman, Restoration of Man, 29). This is why medical authoritarianism is morally wrong. Even in a pandemic, people are capable of exercising common sense.
Those who blindly trust the experts and their scientific erudition will disagree with his assessment, but for those who have two eyes in their heads and open them, they can see that there is a man behind the curtain. And thus, while those who question the Facebook-approved facts are criticized or censored, there are legitimate and even scientific observations that remain to be addressed. Here are nine of them; some are taken from Wilson’s common sense appeal, others come from the email of a friend:
- COVID does not affect all people equally and even with all people included the rate of survival is over 99 percent. This does not deny caring for weaker populations, but neither does it justify universal vaccine mandates.
- The vaccines do not work as promised or as other vaccines have. Breakthroughs, the need for boosters, and reduced levels of efficacy, some under 50%, all point to the increasing ineffectiveness of the vaccines. Taking this data honestly, why we would let governments force something into our bodies that does not work as promised?
- Vaccines are not necessary for all age demographics. To force them on children, young persons, and otherwise healthy individuals denies the place of person-specific medical treatment and is hence unscientific and coercive.
- The vaccines are causing harm, more than is admitted. As Andy Wilson notes, “The rate of reported adverse effects from these vaccines has been significantly higher than with other widely used vaccines.” And in many instances, adverse reactions are not reported—by individuals and/or the media.
- Natural immunity remains. For Christians not to appeal to natural immunity is to act like God is not the Creator of the body, and we are all methodological naturalists. Moreover, to not research the efficacy of natural immunityis to pursue a certain outcome without looking at all the data.
- The long-term effects of these vaccines are unknown. Already, side-effects are coming in and there are concerns. At present, any long-term effects cannot be known. They can be prophesied, but this again makes our scientists religious figures, not servants of the data.
- As vaccinated individuals can still spread COVID, it cannot be eradicated through a vaccination program. Instead, it will become endemic.
- Unlike smallpox, COVID-19 can also infect animals (e.g., 80% of deer in Iowa). If the unvaccinated are truly a threat, doesn’t this mean that every creature on the planet should be vaccinated?
- A significant percentage of medical professionals have been unwilling to take these vaccines. And many others have been willing to lose their jobs over not taking this vaccine. Something does not add up here.
These are just some of the concerns that need to be addressed. But that is exactly what is not happening. And it is not happening because those in the halls of power are not letting it happen. Instead, they are pushing forward a plan to vaccinate the world and everyone in it. The scientific hubris in this endeavor may bring praise and glory to those in power, but in the process it eliminates other possible solutions and enslaves entire cities and nations to the elites in power.
And for those in the church, we must do better. We must not call everything we hear a conspiracy, but neither can we tell lies by spreading the information we receive from those whose worldview is clearly anti-Christian and pro-scientism. As Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:22–23, “Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” In context, he is describing prophetic utterances that were present in the early church. But it applies equally today.
Because scientism is the material religion to which our secular leaders subscribe, Christians must beware of the way that a God-denying, life-promising worldview is packaged in the vaccine-promises of our day. Such is the difficulty of discerning the scientific claims of our secular leaders. For them, science is a religion and it is a coercive religion at that. One way we can see the religious cast of their views is in their unwillingness to accept other beliefs (i.e., that natural immunity might be more effective than a man-made vaccine) and their demand to judge those who stand against them (e.g., just consider the vitriolic response to Aaron Rodgers’ appeal for body autonomy — “my body, my choice”).
Still, my final point here is not to deny the place of the COVID vaccine or anyone’s personal decision to get vaccinated. My point is moral, not medical. In an age where fake news is rampant and governing authorities use scientific rhetoric to enforce their political agenda, we must remember that one of the greatest lies in our age is salvation via science. Christians have an obligation before the Lord to recognize false prophets and false promises. Lest our hopes be divided between Christ and creation, we must see what is behind the vaccine mandate mania of so many.
Speaking the Truth in Love
Sadly, too many Christian leaders have failed to help their congregations think carefully about these cultural forces, and as a result the church has been catechized by mainstream media—a ministry of the state that preaches its man-made gospel and denies the true gospel. With such a vacuum of teaching in the church on matters related to media and the state, too many have believed a mixture of truth and error.
Like the man of God in 1 Kings 13 they have resisted some temptations but not others. And the reason that this is so hard today is that it is difficult to discern what is real and what is not, what is true and what is half-true. The narratives about COVID keep changing and so do the demands of the state, but this should only increase our concern and help us spot the lie. In our world of fake news, there is still one voice that has not changed and one standard that directs our steps. Truly, with God’s unchanging truth, we who shepherd the flock need to call our people to walk in that truth and to call out the myriad of falsehoods that are coming at us.
In our hyper-scientific and modernistic age, one of those falsehoods is scientism. And for the last two years, that worldview has been injected into the body politic and into hundreds of millions of bodies too. Separating the goodness of a vaccine from the evil of a draconian vaccine mandate is not easy. Neither is it easy to affirm the goodness of a vaccine, while admitting that there may be problems with it. In our day, polarization is the norm. But with God’s people, where truth reigns and sits at the right hand of God, there is a way forward and it begins by learning how to spot falsehood in the “facts.”
May God give us wisdom to do so. May he protect us from error. And may he help us to walk in truth and in the grace that comes from the gospel of truth.
Soli Deo Gloria, ds
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