Like you, I’m wrestling with the COVID-19 changes imposed upon us. We’re adapting, steady, and we’re focused. We’re still homeschooling. We’re still reading the news in one hand, and reading the Bible with the other. We’re engaged, determined not to let the bad news sneak past us, or our prayers. We’re also determined not to let the barrage of repetitive, useless speculative analysis paralyze us.
In 1939, Karl Barth, who had long since been exiled by the Nazis for refusing to sign the Hitler Oath, and for opposing the deification of the State, wrote,
The Church prefers to suffer persecution at the hands of the State, which has become a “beast out of the pit of the abyss,” rather than take part in the deification of Caesar.[i]
It’s in the vein of this context that we’re determined to not give in to fear and its consistent demand for absolute fealty. We’re steadfast in our commitment to the current treatment plan but defiant in our “no” to this silent freedom killer. The virus, its source, and the exercise of political power – through a centralization of government ruling by fiat, without the limitation of existing checks and balances – require a line in the sand drawn between us, and the totalitarianism attached to it.
Despite fear and powerlessness, Good Friday remains Good News.
Its events do not show the clash of two kingdoms, and two kings, they show the affirmation of one King and His kingdom. Pilate asks, “are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus replies, “You have said so.” (Mark 15:2) And yet, Jesus “confirms Pilate’s claim to ‘power’ over Him, as power given from above” (Barth). Pilate does not release Jesus. He crucifies Him. The confirmation of Christ as King is affirmed by Pilate’s mockery and Jesus Christ’s death sentence: here hangs, pierced, beaten, spat on, speared and abused, ‘Jesus, the King of the Jews.’ (Matthew 27:37).
The place where God makes His stand before all humanity is on a cross for all humanity. There is no greater line in the sand between humanity and sin – the corruption of absolute power, and the rejection of true freedom, than God’s revelation in Jesus Christ – Christ crucified and resurrected. Whether that absolute be a seemingly unbeatable microscopic parasite or seemingly unbreakable bloated bureaucracy.
Barth writes that Jesus and Pilate (Caesar’s proxy in Judea) confronted one another. What we see is the ‘homelessness of the Church in this age’, and ‘in its demonic form, the State’s authority as the “power of the present age.”
In yielding the Gospel the Church brings to the State a theological critique against all superstition, ideas, imaginations and ideologies, and therefore judgment on any manifestation of an imbalance of power. It can do this because ‘judgment begins with God’s household’ (1 Peter 4:17).
The Church is as a watchman, ‘knowing that it is responsible for the State and for Caesar, and it finally manifests this responsibility, through “the prophetic service of the Church as Watchman,” in its highest form by praying for the State and for its officials in all circumstances.’ (Barth) Both the Church and the State are under the Lordship of Christ.
There was no false dichotomy between secular and sacred. Civic duty for Christians is, as it has always been, holding themselves as individuals, and the Government to its role, function and purpose, accountable, under the Divine Lordship of Christ.
Right through the Gospel of Mark, Jesus’ Kingship is at work. Healing and exorcism, announce His kingdom drawn near, His kingdom to come; his actions calling us to rethink and repent – for ‘the Kingdom of God is near.’
As Ethan, the Ezrahite wrote, “God rules over the surging seas; waves rise, He stills them.” (Psalm 89:9). The shockwaves of Christ’s kingship confirmed by the events of Good Friday, dark Saturday and Resurrection Sunday, spread His authority like a slow tsunami over the Pax Romana, past Rome’s powerful legions, liberating the hearts of the wounded, lame, repentant and humble. Christ’s just rule breaks like a wave over Church and State permeating both. The just who was judged becomes our just judge.
As things currently stand, we’ve had no reassurance from prominent politicians about how civil liberties will be safeguarded during the Coronavirus counter-measures. We, the people, seem to be on a Shakespearean rodeo, living as Romeo, liberty as Juliet. There seem to be powerful forces at work to keep both separated, perhaps even on a permanent basis. But Shakespeare’s work isn’t just a tale of woe about oppressive forces that seek to keep man from woman, and woman from man, it’s a warning telling us not to give up hope.
Regardless of how dead liberty might appear to be, or how pathetically silent our leaders choose to remain. Regardless of how intimidated we are by the state flexing its muscles, prancing its ferocious might in our faces. Regardless of how we may suffer under the hands of those who make themselves the enemy of civil liberties, it’s because of Good Friday, we, who are raised in Christ, can say Good Friday, is still Good News.
Liberty may have been crucified, but liberty was liberated and lives yet still!
Though the state may flap and dance about, howl, breathe fire and brandish the sword, in a political thrust and parry against liberty, they cannot win. For although ‘it’s true that Jesus told His disciples to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. It [shouldn’t be forgotten that it] is God who declares what belongs to Caesar.’ [iii]
May God’s wisdom guide us, may His strength empower us, and with defiant humility, may we gratefully embrace the Light from which all true freedom breaks. For the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).
Happy Easter, folks!
Jesus is Victor!
[i] Barth, K. Community, State, and Church, Wipf & Stock Publishers
[ii] Barth, K. The Theology of John Calvin, Eerdmans Publishing Company
[iii] Bell, G, 1940. Christianity & World Order, Penguin Classics