What the COVID-19 stimulus package reveals about our society

Hear the audio version on Anchor and iTunes.

Introduction and disclaimers

Before we delve in and deal with the COVID-19 rescue deal, I’d like to make a disclaimer that those who know me will find surprising. I do believe that this stimulus is needed, but I say that with a caveat. I don’t like what is happening, but I think it was inevitable that this would happen because of the steps the United States has taken for decades. Effectively, this was one of several bad options, and it may have been the best of all the bad options.

That said, we’re basically looking at most Americans getting in the neighborhood of $1,200 and $500 for each dependent child. As I’ve already said, I’m not a fan of government stimulus or bailouts, but we basically have to do this, partially because of the fact that the virus and the government’s heavy handed response weren’t anyone’s fault, and partially because of how we got here. When we look at it, I see two main reasons why people must get $1,200 from the federal government, plus the beefed up unemployment program.

But prior to those reasons, allow me to make one more disclaimer. I intend to speak in general terms. I know that there are exceptions to the generality, such as people who have been ruined by extreme medical cases, fraud, the fact that they simply don’t have many skills, or plain old got into an industry at the wrong time, like my journalism degree in 2009. I am emphatically not calling them on the carpet in this blog.

Our nasty spending habit and government as deity

Now that I’m batting two-disclaimers-for-three-paragraphs, the first reason that this stimulus is needed is that Americans simply have a habit of living above our means and tend to not save any money for a rainy day (or a highly contagious day, as it were). Only 40 percent of our population can afford an unexpected expense of $1,000, and the average household carries over $7,000 in credit card debt. That noise you heard was Dave Ramsey shrieking in terror before locking himself in a closet and crying himself to sleep. We’re the richest nation in the world (Our median household income is north of $61,000), but we also have a massive debt and savings problem.

What I will not do is indict our country’s level of wealth – as previously stated, we’re literally the richest country in history by several orders of magnitude, and that has benefited everyone. Even our relatively poor are much better off than the poor around the world, and many of them carry supercomputers in their pockets. I will also not accuse those in debt of laziness; Americans by and large still have a remnant of the Protestant work ethic, and many other cultures see us as workaholics. I think, instead, this is a values issue, and our society has been materialistic for generations. This is basically keeping up with the Joneses. Again, if you feel your blood pressure rising on account of my callousness, please see the third paragraph again before dismissing the balance of this blog.

But one of the biggest concerns I have is that the federal government is further incentivizing irresponsibility. By that, I mean that we’re enabling our fellow citizens to live above their means on a consistent basis via stimulus and welfare systems.

And that gets into the second reason I believe the stimulus is needed. The government has overreached so far and consistently takes so much of our money that it becomes much easier to live above our means. In the United States, we are taxed when we earn money, when we spend money, when we save money and earn interest, when we sell stuff, when we own property, and if you die above a certain threshold of wealth, they’ll even take your money after you assume room temperature. Tell me that’s not wicked on its face.

The solution to both issues

As is the theme of this site, Jesus is Lord and has the answer to both of these problems.

Contrary to what some purport, Romans 13 is not a blank check for earthly governments to do whatever they want. That portion of Scripture refers to government both as God’s servant and his minister, and it gives government a very specific job – the restraint of evil. Evil comes in many forms, whether foreign invasion, domestic terrorism, date rape, Ponzi schemes, insider trading, and the list could go on ad nauseum. The restraint and punishment of these and by proxy the securing of God-given liberty is why we pay taxes, and, yes, some taxation is necessary. Excuse me while I go shower away my shame for saying such a thing.

While I rinse off, I’ll point you to the fact Samuel warned the Israelites of how heavy handed a king would be (1 Samuel 8). My goodness, he’s going to tax you 10 percent! The point of this? The earthly king that Israel begged for was going to put himself on par with God with how much he demanded from his subjects. Our current quasi-socialist system demands even more, and that should give us great pause. Anyway, back to Romans 13.

Many Bible-believing, well intentioned Christians will answer that Romans 13 and the rest of the passages about government were written in a different time when they didn’t have all these gadgets that will allow you to watch doggo videos filmed in Cambodia on a whim, nor did they have nearly as many people. They didn’t have any knowledge of epidemiology (everyone’s new favorite vocabulary word other than “expert”). Heck, they didn’t even know the earth was round. But God and his standards don’t change. Ever (Heb. 13:8).

These same, well intentioned people will then say that we can do so much good with the government. Indeed, as Jurassic Park taught us, we can, but that doesn’t mean we should. God has set up government in the same way he has set up the Church and the family. The government has its jobs; the family has its jobs; the Church has its jobs (Deut. 6, Deut. 11, 2 Tim. 4:1-2). And God is not a fan of when people deviate from what he has commanded (Deut. 4:2, Lev. 10).

As an aside to tack on to that argument, many also argue for a progressive form of taxation, which ratchets up the tax rate as one makes more money. Let me remind you that God in both the Old and New Testaments commands that we not show favoritism to the poor nor to the rich (Lev. 19:15, Ex. 23:3, James 2:1-12). Equity under the law must truly mean that, and envy of the rich must not drive us to punishing them for not sharing their goodies as much as we think they should.

But, in all honesty, the biggest concern I have is that while we should turn to the government for justice when someone breaks into our houses, steals our TVs, and kicks our dogs, we’ve also created an environment where we run to the government as our savior when we come upon hard times. And let me guarantee you, governmental soteriology leads to a pit of despair. Just look at all the hipsters wearing T-shirts with 20th century despots.

Instead, the Church needs to step up and be where people turn in times of help, where they get a healthy dose of both help and Gospel. And before you say that they’re not doing enough, I agree, but there’s this economic concept called the crowding out effect. Check out that link and then come back.

Until very recent times, if one ran into hard times within the confines of Western civilization, they sought out those belonging to the Way. It was even the case so much so in the early years of Christianity that the Roman emperor Julian had this to say:

“Atheism [what they called the Christian faith because they denied the Roman pantheon] has been specially advanced through the loving service rendered to strangers, and through their care for the burial of the dead. It is a scandal that there is not a single Jew who is a beggar, and that the godless Galileans care not only for their own poor but for ours as well; while those who belong to us look in vain for the help that we should render them.”

The Church, both then and now, both individually and corporately, did and does a much better job at caring for the poor than the government. We may not have as many resources as the government (the Constitution outlaws us printing our own money, after all), but we make up for that with efficiency and a Gospel presentation, and we don’t coerce people under threat of force to support the effort (2 Cor. 9). Come get bread and meet the Bread of Life.

And when those poor meet the Bread of Life, or when someone just plain old converts, or even when someone is raised in the church, they must be discipled, which is often where the American church has failed. We’ve kept our message to getting out of hell and being vaguely “nice” without understanding how God expects us to live. And don’t tell Andy Stanley, but a good deal of that comes from the Old Testament, which the American church avoids because it pulls exactly zero punches and often turns our 21st century sacred cows into Big Macs.

The American church has to do a better job at discipling people to handle their money wisely, which means more than offering a Dave Ramsey course every four years and reminding people to give, and it must disciple people to think about government wisely, which means more than handing out voter guides every four years and saying that we don’t have all the answers. Aside from Romans 13 and Financial Peace University, I put forward the following texts, which just scratch the surface, to be considered for further study, not to slap anyone around but to show how to live under the lordship of Christ.

“But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-12

“Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it.” – Proverbs 21:20 (The New Living Translation renders the latter half as, “but fools spend whatever they get.”)

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.” – Psalm 20:7-8

“And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” – Deuteronomy 8:3, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 4:4

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” – Galatians 6:9-10

Lastly, by way of clarity, I take the partial preterist view of Revelation, so I believe we’re living in the following reality and that this already happened.

Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.” And the twenty-four elders who sit on their thrones before God fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying,

“We give thanks to you, Lord God Almighty,
    who is and who was,
for you have taken your great power
    and begun to reign.
The nations raged,
    but your wrath came,
    and the time for the dead to be judged,
and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints,
    and those who fear your name,
    both small and great,
and for destroying the destroyers of the earth.” – Revelation 11:15-18

I offer one more text in closing.

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
    who made heaven and earth. – Psalm 121:1-2

 

How Christians should respond to COVID-19

Hear the audio version here: Anchor, iTunes

COVID-19, at least temporarily, has upended the entirety of not just Western but global society. Nearly every nation on the planet has at least one positive case of the coronavirus, and the world’s response has been telling.

The mass media has engaged in its usual fear mongering, wherein they have published worst-case scenario after worst-case scenario headline, even though the much softer truth lies within the third paragraph of the article. The stock market has tanked because investors freaked out. The government has shown ineptitude at federal, state, and local levels. Florida’s beaches were still crowded until a day or two ago (Insert “Florida man” headline here). College kids are still partying for spring break, and unbelievers have shown the way they see the world to be abysmally hopeless. 

People have panicked and turned to their functional gods of government and good times, which have failed them, perpetuating the vicious cycle caused when our idols show themselves to be deaf and dumb. In most of the world’s eyes, God either doesn’t care or is too small to account for this virus. To some, God isn’t there in the first place; the virus is simply the product of evolution and the meat sacks known as homo sapiens are doomed to social isolation or face eradication for the foreseeable future.

On the other side of the same unbelieving coin, we have prosperity teachers making a mockery of Christianity by claiming “authority” over the virus and telling it that it’s illegal. We’ve seen false prophets falsely prophecy that the virus would basically evaporate in just a few days, and we’ve seen hucksters touch TV cameras with mineral oil on their hands, claiming that it would release healing and shields of protection because God either doesn’t or can’t send sickness. This is all Satan’s work, they claim.

The truth is that God not only created COVID-19; he also holds every individual virus’s molecules together by the word of his power. He’s sovereign over wherever it goes and uses it to his glory and the good of his people. He is directing all of the events throughout the course of human history in order glorify himself through the redemption of a particular people, the Church.

Of course, that still hasn’t proven that God’s will is to ever make people sick or otherwise cause them harm. That answer, according to Scripture, is a resounding “yes.” I’ll start my argument in Deuteronomy 28:21-22, in which God lays out how he will curse Israel if they violate the covenant.

“The LORD will make the pestilence stick to you until he has consumed you off the land that you are entering to take possession of it. The LORD will strike you with wasting disease and with fever, inflammation and fiery heat, and with drought and with blight and with mildew. They shall pursue you until you perish.”

Even one of the American church’s favorite verses, 2 Chronicles 7:14, supports this claim when put in its proper context. By itself, it reads, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” However, what many neglect is that literally the verse before talks about God sending pestilence. God brought disease upon even Israel, his covenant people.

One more example from the Old Testament, as many claim that disease is wrought by the unilateral workings of Satan.

The first chunk of the book of Job involves Satan accusing Job, a righteous man, of only following God because of his unbelievably good life. In those days, livestock was basically currency (Or toilet paper by today’s standards) and children were basically hired hands in an agrarian society, and Job had loads of both. Satan requests to harm Job in various ways, and God allows it. Don’t miss that. Satan had to get permission from God to do anything to anyone. Christianity is not dualistic, where God and Satan are equals or even quasi-equals. Instead, the book of Job portrays Satan as something closer to a mean mutt on a leash, which God can jerk back at any time. There is only one Sovereign. If God doesn’t will that Satan tempt or harm someone, it doesn’t happen, period.

Now, lest one say, “That’s in the Old Testament and doesn’t apply today,” never mind the questionable hermeneutic, Jesus Christ himself would like a word with you from Revelation 2 and his letter to the church at Thyatira.

“I know your works, your love and faith and service and patient endurance, and that your latter works exceed the first. But I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols. I gave her time to repent, but she refuses to repent of her sexual immorality. Behold, I will throw her onto a sickbed, and those who commit adultery with her I will throw into great tribulation, unless they repent of her works, and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am he who searches mind and heart, and I will give to each of you according to your works.”

We see here that bad theology hurts people, because people act upon what they’ve been taught, and God takes what people teach about him deadly seriously, even to the point of throwing this false prophet onto a sick bed and killing her children. The truth of God is simply not to be trifled with, and he will judge those who twist it.

But if all we have are blunt facts, we’re left with absolutely no hope. There must be a reason behind it.

The first reason is that the creation groans because of our sin. When we fell in Adam, creation then had to put up with our depravity until the Kingdom comes in its fullness. Sickness is part of God’s curse on the world, and while it would be inappropriate to single out a particular sin or three that God is judging humanity for, we can accurately say that God sent COVID-19 as part of the curse.

The second is illustrated beautifully by Jesus in Luke 13.

There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Jesus makes it clear that people don’t get swept up in war crimes, sickness, etc., because they didn’t have enough faith or necessarily because they sinned. He points us instead to the fact that we’re all headed toward an even worse end unless we repent from our sin and toward God. Don’t fear the virus that can kill the body, but fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Sickness, natural disasters, and the like are reminders from God, meant to point us back to himself. In a sense, they are kindnesses, grace shown to rebellious people. God isn’t callous toward his creations; even within his command to repent is the demonstration of how powerless we truly are and how much we need him.

In this time, therefore, Christians must not water down the Gospel with presentations of, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” That won’t cut it and honestly never has. We must instead give a robust presentation of the Gospel which exposes us in our sinful depravity and God’s just wrath for it, which then perfectly segues into God’s grace presented in his Son, who both fulfilled God’s requirements and provided the perfect sacrifice to pay our due penalty, and who was then raised from the dead for our justification. We are then saved only by God’s unmerited favor through the vehicle of trusting in what Christ has done, and only in what Christ has done. Our own good deeds, no matter how many COVID-19 GoFundMes we support, won’t save us.

Within the Christian life, God has promised that he will never leave us nor forsake us, so the Christian can rest in the assurance that whatever we are going through, God is there in our midst. He has promised that his word bears fruit wherever it goes and doesn’t return to him without accomplishing what he set out to do.

As Christians, we must remember that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus Christ. This means he is Lord over the coronavirus. He is Lord over who gets infected and who is immune. He has called us to live wisely, so wash your hands and don’t lick doorknobs, and we can show the rest of the 7.7 billion people in the world what true hope looks like.