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Over-testing God or Misusing His Name

Dan Meyers/Unsplash

Two months ago, President Trump made the seemingly random assertion that church gatherings are “essential” and should be treated as such in our nation of quarantines and shutdowns. My Trump-supporting colleagues praised his assertion as an example of him standing for our American Christian rights. A few of my fellow seminary grads even commented that, because of this assertion, Mr. Trump has better theology than many Christian leaders. Myself, I was worried. Having been a pastor, I was worried about the confusion and pressure that pastors (including that of my own church) would now feel. Should they open churches and risk infection, disease and death? Or should they stay online and lose political respect and maybe even financially-contributing congregants (when they’re trying to keep their loyal staffers paid as well)?

So I wrote this post, trying to relieve ministry leaders of such unnecessary pressure and trying to encourage my fellow church attenders that we will get through this pandemic together. Not because we can meet physically, but because of the power of the Holy Spirit and our ability to be patient. (Historically, the suffering Church has fared better than the politically-empowered Church). In this blog article, I did grant that, if a church was going to re-open, I said:

Only re-open if you've prayerfully considered all the factors and you know it would significantly help the spiritual well-being of the congregants under your leadership. And still take necessary precautions, as outlined by the consensus of trusted medical leadership.

I was expecting accusations of cowardice, or maybe some backlash because of theological or ecclesiological disagreement. I was wrong. The three most seemingly controversial words of this article, for me to say as a self-professing Christian, were “trusted medical leadership.”

It’s ironic, because I purposely chose the phrase “consensus of trusted medical leadership” so that the term could be subjective to the reader and I wouldn’t have to get into a medical debate. Some Christians, it seems, don’t trust any medical leadership, it seemed, but they trust God. And this is a common sentiment among Christians who gather in-person for worship during a pandemic and in defiance of government guidelines.

Some would argue that we’re “over-testing” for COVID-19. I could argue that we’re over-testing God.

I keep coming back to Matthew 4, when Jesus was being tempted by the devil. The devil used Scripture (Psalm 91:11-12) to argue against Jesus.

Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written:

“‘He will command his angels concerning you,     and they will lift you up in their hands,     so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’”

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

Jesus is referring to Deuteronomy 6:16, where God exhorts his people not to put Him to the test again, like they did at Massah, openly doubting His very presence until Moses broke the rock and clean drinking water flowed.

Are Christians deliberately throwing themselves into impractical and dangerous circumstances (e.g. physical, financial) and putting God to the test? I’m not talking about discerning a call to missions and raising funds. I’m talking about general impractical and reckless behavior that begs for a miracle (and not wearing masks, defying public health guidelines, and threatening fellow citizens for their correction are certainly examples). Those of us who implement safety measures in our lives as seen as less trusting in God.

But, then again, maybe we’re not over-testing God. Maybe we’re misusing his name.

As a kid, I thought the third commandment was referring (mostly, if not wholly) to swearing. It’s a misuse of God’s name because it mocks prayer and the general invocations of His name. But it’s much more than that. We don’t use His holy name for things He would not endorse or ordain, whether it be actions, privileges or even outcomes. Tim Tebow never declared that God would deliver the Broncos a Super Bowl victory, but what if he had? Marvin Heemeyer believed God called and equipped him to bulldoze 13 buildings in a small town in Colorado.

So, we wear seatbelts for safety in the event of a car accident, and buy guns for protection in the event of a home invasion or governmental takeover. But we refuse to wear masks and social distance, calling instead solely on God to protect us from a disease that could kill three million people in our country. Is this seemingly selective trust in God a misuse of His name, at least implying that He would endorse blatant disobedience to non-cumbersome government guidelines, or worse, disease and death?

Let’s not over-test God like the Israelites at Massah or like Jesus refused to do in the wilderness. Let’s not misuse His powerful name. He has wisdom and authority we cannot grasp. Let’s just stick to being faithful suffering servants to His commands.


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