The tyrannical reign of wicked King Covid the 19th shows little inclination of ending. By another three years his disease may have turned endemic: we’ll simply take our periodic vaccinations like some have taken flu shots for all their lives.1
Sadly enough, COVID-19 is not our first instance of welcoming bad neighbors. Consider familiar neighbor alcohol. David Williams and Peter Landless inform us that “there is no safe level of alcohol use.”2 Still, Americans consume an average of 2.4 gallons of pure alcohol per year,3 leading to such impacts on our bodies as high blood pressure, strokes, pancreatitis, liver disease, and cancers of the mouth, breast, head and neck, esophagus, liver, and colon. Beyond these, there is the increased risk of traffic accidents, violence, and suicide, and the death, annually, of about 95,000 people.4 Two other preventable causes kill even more of our friends, neighbors, and relatives: first is tobacco, then poor diet and lifestyle.
Welcoming these families—alcohol, tobacco, poor diet, etc.— into our neighborhoods and helping them to thrive at taking lives is not Christian. Sure, there may be numbers of Christian neighbors permitting or facilitating it. Which only increases the tragedy. And begs the question “Why?” Why should humans facilitate the presence and practice of murderous neighbors?
Robert Hart, in the American business magazine Forbes, reports that from June to December 2021, 163,000 COVID-19 victims could have lived if they had chosen to be vaccinated.5 Hart writes that “the vast majority of hospitalizations and nearly all deaths from COVID-19 are in unvaccinated people, who have cost the health-care system billions and diverted resources from other areas of medicine.”6 Why people in America—or people anywhere—should die by the hundreds of thousands—or one at a time—when they could live is a tragedy enshrouded in a mystery. Ancient prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel agonized over why their people would choose to die when they could live (Jer. 27:13; Eze. 18:31). The answer to their anguish is a mystery of human volition, a commentary on our powers of reason, and a window on our varied and competing ways of establishing facts and truth. One nation’s health-care system may be perplexed at its obligation to invest billions of dollars and experts’ time in simply avoidable crises. But the crisis of the choice for death is not even unique to humanity.
Seventh-century Israelite prophet Jeremiah flails his prophetic arms in desperation as Judah heads toward collapse at the hands of Babylonian invaders.
His dismay focuses on King Zedekiah [hereafter, King Z], whom he is trying to help, as the nation approaches its sad end. Except that, according to another prophet, Hananiah, no such end is approaching. Whom is the king to believe? The prophets compete with and contradict each other while claiming the same level of legitimacy, both self-identifying as spokespersons for God—an unsurpassable sanction. Consider:
Prophet Hananiah, month five, year four, of the current monarch’s reign: “The Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Within two years I will bring back to this place all the articles of the Lord’s house that Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon removed from here and took to Babylon’ ” (Jer. 28:2, 3, NIV).
Prophet Jeremiah, similar vein, year, and subject, to an international company of diplomats conven- ing in the nation’s capital, Jerusalem: “The Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘Tell this to your masters: . . . I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it. . . . Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchad- nezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes’ ” (Jer. 27:4-7, NIV).
Nebuchadnezzar has but two years, Hananiah says, in the name of the Lord of heaven’s hosts! He has three generations, Jeremiah says, in the name of “the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel” (verse 4)! So how is poor King Z to know, when all claims derive from the same supreme authority? This is confusion—“lack of clearness or distinct- ness,” the dictionary says; and, by way of illustra- tion, offers a phrase that uses the term: “a confusion in his mind between right and wrong.”7 King Z is certainly confused. Why doesn’t God tell him what to do, and whom to heed? What a ques- tion! And we ask it too. But isn’t He? Is divine silence the reason for the king’s confusion?
For King Z’s benefit, in 594-593 B.C., and for ours today, God will speak clearly, dissipating the gloom where fungi and conspiracies hatch and creep around. God’s bright distinction between Himself and the shameless liar, between reality and the fake, between His truth and bewildering deception, will end all confusion. Or will it? The naked human eye cannot automatically see in the dark, so God will give a special revelation (1 Cor. 2:14).
Jeremiah presents: with a visual aid. It’s a yoke that dramatizes the subjection of all nations to Nebu- chadnezzar (Jer. 27:1, 2, NIV). And he has given his king the same message he gave the diplomats: sur- render to Babylon (verse 12). But Hananiah, Jeremi- ah’s prophetic competition, will lie with conviction, in God’s name, and appropriate any tool available. Jeremiah’s visual aid will do: it is a symbolic artifact resembling the implement that harnesses a pair of oxen. Hananiah lifts the yoke from off Jeremiah’s neck and, as he breaks it, he speaks: “This is what the Lord says: ‘In the same way I will break the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon off the neck of all the nations within two years’” (Jer. 28:11, NIV). His show-stopping, in-your-face drama carries the day! Hananiah, one; Jeremiah, zero.
Then God gives Jeremiah another message. He must go and tell Hananiah, “This very year you are going to die, because you have preached rebel- lion against the Lord” (verse 16, NIV). Also, because “you have persuaded this nation to trust in lies” (verse 15, NIV).
Two months later Hananiah is dead (verse 17).
Hananiah, famous by fraud, paid with his life for it. But his death does not end confusion. Six years later, King Z denounces and imprisons Jeremiah: “Why do you prophesy as you do? You say, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am about to give this city into the hands of the king of Babylon, and he will capture it’” (Jer. 32:3, NIV). Confusion dies hard! Moreover, confusion wasn’t invented in the sixth century B.C. Long before then, before Earth’s time, a bold creature stirred up and served his own bewildering brew to whoever would sip. A third of heaven’s angelic hosts smacked their lips, said that it was good, and, for it, were expelled from the hallowed halls of Eternal Truth. Confusion would not reign in heaven: there would be no indistinctness between Lord and creature (Isa. 14:12-15; Eze. 28:12-19; Luke 10:18; Rev. 12:4).
The bold creature, now outcast, introduced his beguiling potion to Earth’s first two humans. Our first parents drank, and found themselves morally poisoned, eternally doomed: they had succumbed to confusion, belief in a lie that mixed fact and fiction, engendering indistinctness: yes, God knows everything; yes, you will learn what you did not know before; but no, that will not make you like God; it will not bridge the unbridgeable chasm between you, the creature, and the infinite God, your Creator. Objective truth and reality do exist, independent of whatever intriguingly persuasive thing the liar may say. You will not become a deity; you will die (see Gen. 3:1-6).
Humanity’s founding couple fell by giving credence to the word of the original fraud Jesus identifies as “a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44, NIV).
Adam and Eve did not have to surrender to a lie. Confusion is difficult to figure out sometimes, but never enough for King Z or Adam or you or me to blame God for leaving us in error. Jesus is unequivocal: “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17, NIV). This is a hard saying, with forbidding implications: confusion is never God’s fault. I may be confused because I do not truly want to know. King Z’s vacillation six years after God had pub- licly cut down liar Hananiah seriously calls into question any alleged uncertainty about God’s voice in the matter. Am I just one more King Z? Do I clamor for clarity at the very moment that silence will allow me to hear (Ps. 46:10)? Am I (awkwardly) violating God’s order of silence (Hab. 2:20)? Is my confusion a simple failure to distin- guish genuine need from selfish craving, my per- sonal fascination with forbidden fruit (James 4:3)?
Humans have been shown too much to believe that our unclarity must be God’s fault. We may balk at heaven’s damning assessment, but we lack the means or credibility to falsify it: “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19, NIV). My own clarity about my faith, the strength of my conviction, may be greater than the Israel of Elijah’s time, double- minded and unstable, hobbling between two opinions (James 1:8; 1 Kings 18:21). But am I ready to declare before God again and again, “not as I will; but as you will” (Matt. 26:39, NIV)?
Those words are Jesus’ own principled sentiment: “Those who accept the one principle of making the service and honor of God supreme will find perplexities vanish and a plain path before their feet.”8 As the Lord has promised, categorically: “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13, NIV).
The space-time where we live out our thoughts and behaviors is moral first. And truth matters. Eternally. Lies may win us rhetorical contests and more, but winning is not what humanity most needs. More vaccines, perhaps. Francis Collins, retiring director of the National Institutes of Health, is amazed that 60 million Americans, despite the COVID vaccines’ lifesaving nature, “would still say, ‘No, not for me.’ ”9 But what human- ity most needs is saving truth. And Jesus who is saving truth and eternal life calls us all: “Come to me” (Matt. 11:28, NIV), I’ll set you free (John 8:32). Confusion may be its own perplexing matter. But God is not confusion’s author. Rather, He is the author of the wholeness that is peace (1 Cor. 14:33), and the antithesis of gray uncertainty: “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, NIV). Why grope in confusion, why die when you don’t need to; when you may live in Christ, and thrive?
Hananiah’s fate is not inevitable. We have better models to follow.
1 https://www.cnbc.com/2021/12/17/pfizer-executives-say-covidcould-become-endemic-by-2024.html, accessed Dec. 20, 2021.
2 David Williams and Peter Landless, in Journal of Adventist Education, December 2013/January 2014, p. 29, citing Lorraine T. Midanik et al., “Risk Functions for Alcohol-Related Problems in a 1988 U.S. National Sample,” Addiction 91, no. 10 (1996): 1427-1437.
3 https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/indicators/indicator-details/ GHO/alcohol-recorded-per-capita-(15-)-consumption-(in-litres ofpure-alcohol).
5 https://www.forbes.com/sites/roberthart/2021/12/14/160000-unvaccinated-americans-died-from-covid-19-since-june---shots couldhave-saved-them-study-finds/?sh=38ae517d44e8; accessed Dec. 20, 2021.
7 2021 Dictionary.com, LLC.
8 Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1898, 1940), p. 330.
9 CBS News, “NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins on a Life in Science,” Dec. 19, 2021, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/nih-director-dr-francis-collins-on-a-life-in-science/, accessed Dec. 29, 2021.
Lael Caesar is an associate editor of the Adventist Review.