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Isn’t it instructive to think about your grumbling last year to see how many of the things you complained about then would be welcomed annoyances today? The divisiveness in our culture is at an all-time high, at least in my lifetime. Things have been worse, of course (e.g., American Revolution and Civil War), but I have not experienced life as challenging as it is now—from a cultural perspective.
As I reshuffle the “events of my life hierarchy” with worst at the top, what is happening now is ascending while my former complaints are moving down a notch or two. It won’t be long before our most common mantra has the “good old days” attached to it:
I remember the good old days when [fill in with a problem from your past].
Reflecting on how good you had it last year may teach you how things can worsen—a call to be thankful today for what you have. I’m not sure what to think about “how bad it is today” when one of the biggest flies in our “cultural ointment” is about whether we should wear a mask. I suppose folks who live in worse countries than ours shake their heads at our mask problem. I’m not saying it’s not an issue, but what if you put it in another perspective?
For those of you who have been counseling a while, you know that rarely is the first question a counselee asks is the first one they should ask. Typically, a counselee will begin with the external problem (i.e., our mask problem), which is what they see. Makes sense, right? For example, a spouse will talk about their communication problems first. They will ask for tips on how to talk to each other without biting and devouring one another (Galatians 5:15).
Practical tips, best practices, and guidelines are vital, and you will serve them well by providing a few ways they can communicate without being harsh, judgmental, or silent. As you help with the “practical side of communication,” you want to dig deeper to show them some of the hidden complexities and relational dynamics of their issue.
Our “mask problem” is similar; it’s not the first question to ask. The opening paragraph of the Proverbs of Solomon ends with a statement you want to form into a question to ask before you respond to the more practical, mask-wearing query. Solomon implies that you must have the right starting place before you begin problem-solving. That old verse is the best one for our times. We need knowledge plus wisdom and instruction, but that is not where you want to begin. Do you see the right starting place in this verse?
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7).
I’ll get back to Solomon in a moment, but first, may I make an appeal? As you proceed, perhaps the most challenging thing for you to do is to be slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19). Will you bear with me? I realize that many people are bent-out-shape about wearing a mask. I understand the tension. The left side of our political spectrum has pushed their agendas farther than they have ever gone before, and it’s bugging some of you while tempting others to fear in ways that are debilitating.
When you look at today’s evolving political spectrum, you see everything sliding to the left. The “conservative side” is shrinking back toward the center, and the left side of the spectrum is pushing farther into leftist perspectives. There used to be the liberal left with whom the conservatives did battle. Those folks continue to exist, but there is another group on their side that makes liberals look conservative.
It’s not like these socialists, communists, and Marxists have not been around before most recently. They have always been here. The difference is that there was a time when the left and right had immutable lines of disagreement, and we both agreed that America is a great country, though we differed on which worldview should be preeminent. It’s not like that any longer.
Many people feel as though an invisible force is pulling them into a dark, left-leaning black hole. Their fear (or frustration) is intensifying as they watch the shifting of the Overton Window. The Overton Window is a box with gradations of ideas in it. At the top of the window are the more radical ideas of the culture. The farther you go to the bottom, the more conservative you become.
The problem is the shifting of the Overton Window upward. It’s not changing in size but changing what acceptable talking points are. For example, being gay used to be outside the Overton Window of acceptable behavior. Today, being gay is near the center of the “window” while disagreeing with gayness is out the window. It’s considered hate-speech.
As the Overton Window continues to move upward, our culture will embrace ideas that used to be taboo, while historical, conservative views will fall from the bottom of the window, making those formerly acceptable ideas unacceptable. As the Christian community sees the slow-eroding of their beliefs, their fear and frustration levels rise higher than their faith. This problem is acute, sensitive, and not mitigating.
How do you follow along when you believe someone is pulling you into a world that you disdain? Should you give up this ground or stand fast? What if you give up your preference for now, but come back to it later after things settle down? Will things settle, or change forever? These questions—plus a few others—explain the problem with our masks, which is why you must be careful when addressing what should be an easy question to answer. It’s not. The mask is a symbol of a world gone mad. Should you wear a mask?
The world is dividing over this question. So is the church. On a more granular level, friends and families feel the pinch, too. To add to the complexity, many folks of the culture are watching us. A few of them laugh, mock, and jeer, while others feel affirmation that Christianity is full of fake and immature Christians. This angst brings us back to Solomon.
Before you answer the mask question, will you spend some time thinking about a better one? Solomon wants us to go back to the beginning of knowledge to make sure that we’re at the right spot before we ask a knowledge-based question about wearing a mask. He wants us to calibrate our hearts. If you don’t do this, you won’t think rightly about our mask problem. Where is this right spot? Solomon places the starting place for all knowledge in the fear of God.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. If you want to know what to do about wearing a mask, you must address your understanding and application of the fear of God. Do you know what that term means? If so, how is the fear of God actively monitoring and guiding your mind as you think about the “should I wear a mask” quandary?
The fear of God has two parts: God is a God of judgment and a God of love, both of which you see at the dawn of humanity. After Adam and Eve sinned, there was a judgment on them, but God was not just the punisher of sin: He provided a sacrifice for them so that they would not have to pay for their transgressions.
The balanced Christian has a healthy fear of God, which is an awe-filled fear that rests in His astonishing love because this believer knows that Christ forever judged their most significant problem in life. This Christian is not just a restful one, but their peace shapes how they think about God, self, others, and life. The fear of God is why a mask does not manage their attitudes or their words.
If you lean one way or another on the “fear of God spectrum,” your attitude and responses to others will reflect it. For example, if you are overly harsh, stubborn, critical, unkind, resentful, and frustrated about this “mask thing,” you’re not at peace, and you will lean toward the “judgment side” of things. Judgment people tend to be harsher with how they think about matters of practice.
If you’re more afraid, manipulatable, willing to go with the flow, and characterized by anxiousness when thinking about the “mask thing,” you’re learning too much toward the “love side” of things. Love must have courage, or it’s not love at all. It’s the fear of man: the person is afraid to take a stand. Their pseudo-love becomes a failed attempt to keep others from being unkind to them. If your love does not have a backbone, don’t call it love because it’s not. You’re fearful.
A person who understands the fear of God is at the right place to have the right knowledge. They are not unkind toward others or afraid to take a stand. Because the fear of the Lord manages them, they can think rightly about anything regarding life and godliness, including our cultural mask problem.
I could provide you with a long list of things that I believe and do, and some of you would be offended. These things are not sinful to me, but some folks would not agree because a few of those preferential practices grind against their souls. Because of this tension, if I know that [fill in the blank] bothers you, I will not do it in front of you (James 4:17). It would be unkind to do so. Of course, the comeback is, “But what if it’s not a sin? Are you to bow to every whim, preference, peculiarity, and quirk of someone?” The answer is obvious if you understand and practice the fear of the Lord.
Neither instance is the wisdom of Solomon. If you fall one way or another, you need to get alone with God and work out your skewed understanding and practice of the fear of the Lord. It would be wise and useful if you connected with someone more mature than you are to repair your “fear of God problem.”
As you correct it, you will grow in wisdom, which is how you’re going to figure out how to answer the mask question. I suspect some folks will read this, expecting me to answer the mask question. These folks lack understanding and tend to want folks to solve their problems without them doing the hard work of wrestling with God. Ninety-nine percent of all your questions are not in the Bible—in an explicit way.
You have to make your decision about wearing a mask based on where you are with the Lord. Specifically, your understanding and practice of the fear of God. If you’re too harsh or too manipulated by others, you’re not at the right starting point, and you will not react rightly to others. If you are one of these ways—uncharitable or fearful, the essential thing you should do is ask someone about your attitude, words, and actions about mask-wearing.
If you’re not willing to do that, then you’re not a humble person, and you have your answer about where you are with the Lord. If you persist, you will stir up strife (James 4:6). But if you’re willing to solicit input from one or two competent, compassionate, and courageous friends, you will be able to adjust yourself biblically. These friends have the core components of friendship:
Talk to them. Make sure you’re at the right starting place, which is a proper fear of God, which influences your practice. Then your response to the mask response will be as right as it can be.
The best passage to study about mask-wearing is 1 Corinthians 8, where we find one group afraid to eat previously-sacrificed meat and another group that was “puffed up” about the first group.