The Conspiracy Temptation
“Do not call a conspiracy all that this people calls a conspiracy, and do not fear what they shall fear, nor be in dread,” God says to the prophet Isaiah. “But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel” (Isa. 8: 12- 14.) I was taken up short when a Facebook acquaintance pointed out this verse in a comment thread about the conspiracy du jour. I’m friends with people who follow Q Anon, a group that claims to have inside knowledge about what Trump is actually up to. Others think that Bill Gates is slavering to vaccinate all of us while injecting us with microchips that will show we’ve been vaccinated. People are bristling at the idea we will have to carry proof that we have been vaccinated against Covid and other illnesses, and that we might have to show this proof in order to do any business including paying taxes in this country. The people who believe this are written off as nut jobs, though not by me. I can see their point and they are beloved by me.
It’s hard not to think that some bad actor designed this virus to defy human nature that needs to hug each other, gather in groups, talk face to face, be present when someone beloved dies, or gives birth or is married, or simply buy stuff. The virus turns people into weapons, with the potential for killing other people without knowing we are sick. We can be dying ourselves, our lungs full of pneumonia without our knowing it. And it targets people who are costly to maintain–elderly in nursing homes, people with pre-existing conditions, the immune compromised. It’s almost as if someone figured out a way to save Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid by making this disease. People in jail, homeless camps, nursing homes, are vulnerable. What better way to get rid of them? And if we try to save lives by enforcing quarantine then the whole world falls into an economic depression which also ruins lives and kills people. Hospitals have been closed except for treating Covid. Therefore people with other ailments aren’t getting treated. Their elective surgeries, which might involve a broken hip, or a liver transplant, or removal of cancer are being postponed. Some governors are arresting people for taking drives in the country or playing catch with their daughter in a park or holding a drive in church service. We are being taught to be afraid of each other. Surely someone has to be behind something so well designed to shut down the world and/or kill the worthless. Surely. (I feel stained by darkness just by writing this, writing what I see.)
“Don’t call a conspiracy and do not fear what they shall fear, nor be in dread.” I am afraid that a sore throat could bloom into Covid, where I’m hauled to a hospital room gasping for breath. I am afraid I’ll get sick and not know it and kill someone else. I am afraid that contact tracing will be weaponized by a totalitarian government, that I will be jailed for my beliefs or political views. I am afraid I won’t be brave, that I won’t rescue the persecuted, or feed the hungry, that I won’t claim Jesus when the time comes.
“Don’t call a conspiracy and do not fear what they shall fear, nor be in dread.” Don’t try to shape what you see into a story, that makes sense, because maybe there is no sense, except the sense of God’s working in our world. But, but I am drawn to conspiracy theories because they tell a story, shuffling random events into a narrative arc that explains what is going on. I thirst for story. I thirst for sense, even if it’s slick, a fast read like a Dan Brown thriller. I want to take the pile of puzzle pieces jumbled on the table and piece them into a farm scene. I want to know the latest gossip. When a friend doesn’t call, I feel empty, I grieve, because I haven’t heard what happens next.
Because I can’t wrap my head around how the whole world is hurting because of this pandemic, I turned to Revelation. I am not a fancy Bible student, but I do feel Revelation is a living book that can tell us how our personal lives are going, or how Go shaped the very early church or what is going on today. I read it for the images, for what’s behind them. I read it for awe. I’ve wondered if the four horses of the apocalypse were being lead out of the barn.
Worthy Are You Our Lord and God
What did I find? A hymn to creation: “Worthy are you our Lord and God to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4: 11). The whole earth is full of the glory of God, his fingerprints are on all of creation because he made the earth and the stars and the trees popping buds and the grass that uses the sun that horses and cattle and sheep eat. We are finding that trees live in community, defending each other, slowly communicating with each other. Some Christians believe the light that shone on Moses’ face and on Jesus’ face when he was transfigured is the true radiance of the world that we can’t see. But we can look for the light that we do see. I can’t help but think of the pair of verses in Psalm 147 that says “He heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds. He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.” In Some Assembly Required Neil Shubin says, “Our ability to read, write, and remember the moments of our lives is due to an ancient viral infection that happened when fish took their first steps on land.” So, maybe, possibly, even at creation viruses were part of God’s creative acts moving life along and not destroying it.
I skipped the stern letters to the churches and started reading in chapter four because I want to know how this prophesy might apply. Are there any insights into how we can respond? John saw “in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne” a scroll, sealed with seven seals, with writing inside and out. “Who is worthy to open the scroll and break its seals?” John sobbed because “no one was found above, below or in the earth” worthy to open it. John wanted to hear the story so badly he broke down in wretched tears, right there before the throne of God. (Rev. 5: 1 – 4)
The Angel told him, yes there was someone worthy: “The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered so he can open the scroll and the seven seals.” (Rev. 5:5) Instead of being terrified of what God might do, of how the world is falling apart, how there might be war, inflation, poisoned waters, a terrible authoritarian ruler who could inflict much pain because of our technology, I saw the hymns. I saw “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain and by his blood ransomed people for God from every tribe, language people and nation, and they have been made a kingdom and priests to our God and they shall reign”( Rev. 5: 9 – 10).
And another hymn, this time from heavenly beings, angels, numbering in the millions, singing, “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Rev. 5: 11).
And the same hymn from “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea and all that is in them “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” (Rev. 5: 13) Who is to say our dogs and cats and horses and cattle aren’t singing this hymn right now, only we can’t hear it, like the uncreated light we can’t see? Who’s to say the salmon and carp and dolphins and tuna and whales aren’t singing this right now? And the birds, maybe the songs we hear aren’t just about mating and territory, but also this song, “Worthy is he who sits on the throne. Worthy is the Lamb.” And the bees and mosquitoes and flies buzzing a voice just at our hearing, Worthy is the Lamb. And the trees and daffodils and grass, especially the grass, when the wind blows through, what we call sheep running through grass.
The stories being told about this virus from the pit of hell are driving us to be afraid of each other, afraid of ourselves, demanding we not hug each other, or throw our whole faces into a smile of recognition because they are covered by masks. It has driven us to be alone except through our gadgets. Don’t get me wrong, I think we need to do the social distancing thing, so we don’t unknowingly spread the disease, but I think we should stop bathing in all this fear. It’s perfect love that pitches it to the next field over. It’s that love, those hymns being sung in all creation, Worthy is the one who sits on the throne, Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, who has redeemed for himself a kingdom from every tribe and language and peoples. The Lamb who was slain has broken death’s back. The virus does not get to win. And we are free to love each other, even if it’s minuscule like praying on Zoom or sending an email, or thanking your significant other for washing the kitchen floor. It’s those hymns we can sing in defiance of the fear. (I have Agnus Dei and the Revelation song queued up on my phone, along with Lovers in a Dangerous Time and Wondering Where the Lions are.) Let’s shake our fist at the powers of darkness and sing the hymns of love: Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, and by his blood, he ransomed people for God from every tribe, and language and people and nation and he has made us a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on earth (Rev. 5: 9 – 10).
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