The Side of Silence

It is not uncommon (especially in recent days) to hear someone make a public statement that includes comments along the lines of “I just couldn’t stay silent any longer.”

One of the tactics used to encourage others to chime in and voice their support for the issue at hand is the accusation that to remain silent is to be “on the wrong side of history” . . . that silence is tacit approval of the “evil” being denounced.  There are two famous quotes to this effect, one misattributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer (“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”)1, and another misattributed to Edmund Burke (“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”)2.

Not-Bonhoeffer and Not-Burke are right that staying on the sidelines is not an option.  Silence cannot be equated with neutrality.  Declining to publicly proclaim your stance on a particular issue or conflict does not mean that you are not “helping” one side or the other.  The question is, which side is bolstered by your silence?

If you don’t make it a point to say #BlackLivesMatter, does that mean you’re okay with racism?
   or
If you don’t object to the #BLM movement, is that an indication that you’re okay with Critical Race Theory and Marxist ideology?

If you refuse to put a rainbow on your profile pic, does that mean you’re a homophobic bigot?
   or
If you don’t speak up against gay marriage, does that mean you’re on-board with allowing the sexual revolution to continue unabated?

Depending on the situation, your silence could benefit either side of these divisive issues. It requires wisdom and insight to recognize whose side will benefit the most from your silence.  The answer to that question may well depend on the context of your situation, who the audience is, what type of platform you have, etc.  However, do not mistake silence for neutrality.

On two occasions, Jesus addressed the actions and attitudes of those who were not his followers.  Despite not being his followers, neither group was neutral.  In one case he claimed them as allies (Mark 9:40 – “the one who is not against us is for us”), whereas in the other case he proclaimed them to be his adversaries (Matthew 12:30 – “whoever is not with me is against me”).

The determining factor was not based on their issuance of a public statement proclaiming their affiliation with Jesus or their opposition to Jesus.  Neither was their “side” determined by their failure to issue a public statement declaring themselves for or against Jesus.  Instead, it was their actions and attitudes that made the difference.

What actions and attitudes are you putting on display?  Are you furthering the cause of Jesus or the world?


  1. https://www.wthrockmorton.com/2016/08/25/the-popular-bonhoeffer-quote-that-isnt-in-bonhoeffers-works/ 

  2. https://checkyourfact.com/2019/06/05/fact-check-edmund-burke-triumph-evil-good-men/ 

To Mask or Not to Mask?

Lots of people have strong opinions about whether or not we should all be wearing masks right now.  The answer to that question is not as simple as some would have you believe.

There are two issues that must be resolved: 1) do health concerns warrant mask wearing, and 2) does submission to authority warrant mask wearing?

If masks provide the health benefits that are claimed, then the second question is not all that relevant.  If a mask is a low-cost, low-effort, and effective means of protecting myself and others, then it makes sense to wear one, whether it’s mandatory or not.  If I knew exactly when and where I might be exposed to a contagious virus, then I would not need to wear a mask unless I knew I was in the presence of the virus.  If I knew that I was not a carrier, I would not need to wear a mask to protect others.  However, I cannot know when and where I might be exposed, and I cannot necessarily know if I am a carrier who might inadvertently pass the virus to someone else.  So, the question becomes a matter of whether the risks of transmission and the benefits of the mask are high enough to outweigh the downsides of wearing a mask.

Some people think this is an easy question.  They argue that the risks are reasonably high (although impossible to know for sure), that a mask substantially reduces those risks (especially when worn by an infected person to reduce the spread at the source), and that the downsides are so low that it’s a no-brainer.  This is the “accepted narrative” being put forth by the majority of health experts and public leaders right now (although a few months ago it was a different story).

Others point to statistics showing that the risk of death or serious illness from COVID-19 is not all that fearsome, studies that cast doubt on the efficacy of masks in mitigating the risk, and concerns that the downsides of masks are higher than what is often acknowledged.  These concerns are typically countered by appeal to the “scientific consensus,” but scientific consensus is fickle and is sometimes influenced by things other than unbiased interpretation of the evidence (not only the interpretation, but even the generation and collection of “evidence” is subject to biases).

In light of doubts about the true health benefits of wearing masks, the second reason to wear masks is to  comply with a mandate from a governing authority.  Legal consequences notwithstanding, those who share Christian convictions recognize our obligation to obey the governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7).  This obligation to obey extends even to those rulers who are unjust (1 Peter 2:18).  The only exception is when the authority demands something that is contrary to God’s law (Acts 4:18-19, 5:28-29, Ex. 1:17).

The question on this front is: what if the claim to authority is illegitimate?  Even though the person or body making the claim does have legitimate authority, their authority has bounds.  A teacher has legitimate authority in the classroom, an employer has legitimate authority in the workplace, a parent has legitimate authority in the home, elders have legitimate authority in the church, and civil governments have legitimate authority in the public sphere.  But when an authority in one sphere oversteps the bounds of their authority, one is not being disobedient to ignore their demands.  A demand by someone without the authority to make such a demand can be disregarded.  This is not disobedience; it is simply a recognition that the demand is not authoritative.  In some situations, one may choose to acquiesce to the demand for other reasons (to escape the threat of violence or other costs), but it may also be appropriate to refute the illegitimate authority claim.

Does a government official or body have the legitimate authority to require healthy (or presumed healthy) individuals to wear masks everywhere they might go?  Does their authority extend to private enterprises (businesses, schools, churches, etc.)?  Some say yes, some say no.  What is the basis of their authority?  Is it simply because they have the power to enforce their demand (might makes right)?  Is the authority vested in them by the law?  What if the demand exceeds the authority granted by the law?  What if a law is crafted that exceeds or violates the authority granted by the constitution?  Does the authority rest in the individual(s) representing the government, or in the legal code that established the government?  If a state constitution does not give a governor the authority to mandate the wearing of masks, and if one remains unconvinced of the health benefits, then is it still necessary to “submit” to the illegitimate authority claim?  Is it better to stand up against the illegitimate authority claim?  What if, instead of a mask, the government mandated that certain elements of the population wear an armband with a yellow star?  Do Christians have an obligation to obey such a command, or would compliance only be recommended under duress to avoid the threat of penalty?

Given that there are doubts about the medical necessity of mass mask-wearing, and doubts about the legitimacy of governmental mandates to wear masks, I accept that there are good people who have good reasons to think that we should all be wearing masks, and I accept that there are good people who have good reasons to think that we should not all be wearing masks.

The First and the Last

The first book of the New Testament
was written by one of the 12 Apostles
to show how the [first] coming of Jesus
fulfills the Old Testament prophecies
about the Promised King.
The restoration of the throne of David
is fulfilled in Jesus.
The last book of the New Testament
was written by one of the 12 Apostles
to show how the [second] coming of Jesus
fulfills the Old Testament prophecies
about the Promised Kingdom.
The restoration of God’s people
is fulfilled in Jesus.

Of the four gospel writers, Matthew places a particular emphasis on showing that Jesus was the Anointed One…the promised Messiah. Over and over, Matthew says, “this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet” (Matthew 1:22, 2:15, 2:17, 2:23, 4:14, 8:17, 12:17, 13:35, 21:4, 26:56, 27:9). Matthew’s point is not simply to validate the reliability of the Old Testament prophets. Matthew is emphasizing to his readers that these Old Testament prophecies were pointing to Jesus.

The Jews had long been waiting for the Promised One:

  • the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:14-15).
  • the seed of Abraham who would “possess the gates of [his] enemies” and bless “all the nations of the earth” (Genesis 22:17-18).
  • the lion of Judah who would command the obedience of all the peoples (Genesis 49:9-10).
  • the root of Jesse (Isaiah 11:10), the righteous branch (Jeremiah 23:5, 33:15), the king who would gather his people and destroy their enemies, reestablishing David’s throne as the seat of power over a kingdom that would never again be defeated (Isaiah 9:6-7), just as God had promised David (2 Samuel 7:16).

Jesus came in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about the promised Messiah. Jesus is the promised King. However, the kingdom that God has promised his people was not immediately ushered in when Jesus came to earth (at least not in its entirety). Although Satan has been judged (John 12:31, 16:11), cast down (Luke 10:18), and bound (Matthew 12:29), he still temporarily retains his role as the “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2), blinding and enslaving the kingdoms of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4, 1 John 5:19). The ultimate destruction of evil and the peace and prosperity of God’s kingdom have not yet been fully realized.

Jesus died and returned to heaven with “unfinished business.” As Cleopas said on the road to Emmaus, “we had hoped that [Jesus] was the one to redeem Israel” (Luke 24:21). As his disciples asked him after his resurrection and before his return to heaven, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Perhaps some of the disciples misunderstood the nature of God’s kingdom, but it remains true that there are still unfulfilled promises about the restoration of God’s people, the eradication of God’s enemies, and the establishment of God’s eternally peaceful kingdom.

The biblical canon closes with the apostle John’s reassurance that Jesus will return, fulfilling the remaining promises, and perfecting God’s kingdom. John’s vision does not reveal new promises so much as it reveals the fulfillment of old promises. John does not quote specific Old Testament prophecies the way Matthew does. John communicates via a different genre, writing an apocalypse, not a biography. John refers to Old Testament prophesies using allusions not quotes. Yet his point is still quite clear. Jesus will come again to fulfill the prophecies of Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah and others. The Promised King will return to establish his kingdom, rescue his people, and destroy those who oppose him.

The people of Matthew’s day had been waiting for the Messiah to be revealed. Matthew wrote his gospel to display the glory of the King who had come. In our day, we await the return of the King to establish his glorious kingdom. Jesus appeared to John in a vision to reveal the coming of the kingdom that he has promised. Come, Lord Jesus!

The Victory of the Cross

Today marks the second in the series of major Christian holidays celebrating Christ’s life on earth.  The first, of course, is Christmas, when we celebrate the arrival of Jesus on earth, the incarnation of God in human flesh, the second Adam, coming to save his fallen Creation.  Then comes today, Good Friday, marking the substitutionary atonement that Christ made on our behalf, dying in our place, and paying the penalty for our sin.  On Sunday, we will celebrate his Resurrection from the dead, the vindication of his death and his triumph over the grave.  Finally, there was his Ascension 40 days later, his return to his rightful place, the throne room of Heaven, where He sits at the right hand of the Father, ruling his Creation, and acting as our mediator.

Every year on Good Friday, I experience a little bit of internal conflict, or to use a couple of bigger words, “cognitive dissonance” when I contemplate this holiday.  Most holidays are days of celebration.  Certainly we can be thankful and we can rejoice for the good things that resulted from the events of this day, but can we really “celebrate” the day that sinful men murdered the Son of God?  Jesus suffered the ultimate humiliation, and it is to our great shame that our sin was responsible for this great injustice.  So do we celebrate Good Friday, or do we just commemorate it, sort of like we do with December 7, 1941, the bombing of Pearl Harbor?  I remember when I saw Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, in the theater.  When the movie was over, there was no applause, no cheering, no one discussing what a good movie it was or recalling particular scenes that they found impactful.  It was silent.  It was somber.  Outside the theater, other people who had come to see other movies were talking, joking, laughing, etc.  But those who had just watched The Passion filed out of the theater in silence and walked to their cars without saying a word.  There was no celebration that day.  

However, without taking anything away from the somber reality of sin that led to this day, and the immense suffering and humiliation that Jesus suffered on this day, I do think that we can rightly celebrate the victory that Christ accomplished on Good Friday.  The cross was not a low point, a temporary defeat, followed by a comeback.  No, the cross was where Jesus won.  It was a grueling victory, and the cost of victory was infinite, but it was victory nonetheless.

I don’t remember if I’ve heard someone say or teach this before, or if I’ve simply thought it myself in the past, but some people might have the idea that Jesus’ death and resurrection can be treated as independent events, with his death paying the penalty for our sin, and his resurrection making it possible for us to have eternal life.  As if, in theory, he could have simply died, and ceased to exist as a man, with his spirit simply returning to his pre-incarnate state; in which case, those who placed their faith in him would not have to suffer eternal damnation, because Jesus paid that debt for us, but that when we die we would just cease to exist if not for his resurrection.  His death keeps us from going to hell; his resurrection allows us to go to heaven.  Two distinct events with two distinct effects.  However, this is not what the Bible teaches.  Hebrews 2:14 says that Jesus “shared in [our] humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death.”  Jesus didn’t die and then later defeat the devil when he rose again.  He defeated the devil when he died.  In reality, we cannot separate Christ’s death and resurrection into two independent events and attempt to describe certain things that his death accomplished, and certain other things that his resurrection accomplished.  Paul says in I Corinthians 15:17 that, “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”  If Christ was not raised, then his death was ineffectual, and was nothing but a tragedy.  But Christ was raised, which is the proof that his death secured the victory.

One of the things that got me thinking about the victory of the cross was a rabbit trail that I went down when I was studying Psalm 18.  I was considering the Messianic elements of Psalm 18, but anytime you look up information about Messianic Psalms, the one that rises to the top is Psalm 22.  The opening line of Psalm 22 is quoted by Jesus while hanging on the cross: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And that question, “why have you forsaken me?” raises other questions.  What really happened in the relationship between God the Father and God the Son?  Was Jesus really abandoned by God, or was he just expressing his anguish by quoting the anguish that David felt?

It’s been my experience that most people take it for granted that God “turned his back” on Jesus at some point when Jesus was hanging on the cross, because God “cannot look on sin.”  I was reminded of a line from the 1985 Carman song, The Champion, which depicts the crucifixion as a boxing match between Jesus and Satan.  (This song from 30+ years ago was very popular during my formative years of the late 80’s and early 90’s.  It surely ranks up there with other timeless classics such as Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art.)  In the song, after Satan delivered his “knock-out blow,” the lyrics say, “God the Father turned His head, His tears announcing Christ was dead!”  This captures the typical understanding that Jesus cried out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” because that was the moment at which all our sin was imputed to Jesus, and God turned his head, no longer looking with favor on his beloved Son.

Now, I do not intend to untangle the theological intricacies of exactly how the atonement works, and the degree and manner in which the unity of the Holy Trinity may have been temporarily fractured.  That is a topic for another day, or an entire lifetime, which maybe we will understand when we get to heaven.  However, in reading some of the ideas about it, I came across something interesting.

It is said that quoting the first line of a passage was a common means of referring to a complete unit of Scripture.  (Remember that chapter and verse numbers were not added until sometime later.)  So, instead of pointing someone to “Psalm 23,” you would refer them to “The Lord Is My Shepherd.”  It’s possible, then, that in quoting the first verse of Psalm 22, Jesus was actually referring to the entire Psalm, not just the part that he quoted.  If that is the case, it might give a different impression of what he meant when he said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  He might have been pointing his hearers to that Psalm, not necessarily expressing his personal feeling of being forsaken.  What I found particularly interesting is the link between Jesus’ words in John 19:30, “It is finished,” and the last phrase of Psalm 22.

Psalm 22 begins as a lament.  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? …(paraphrasing now)… I cry out to you day and night, but you do not answer … my ancestors trusted you, and you delivered them; they cried out to you and were rescued; they were not put to shame… but I, on the other hand, have been robbed of human dignity; I’m nothing but a worm; scorned, despised, mocked… I lay in the dust of death, surrounded, with no one to help me… I have no strength, no courage, not even words to defend myself.” 

The language of this first section of the psalm is very clearly fulfilled by Christ on the cross.  Compare Psalm 22:7-8 with the account from Matthew’s gospel:

PSALM 22:7-8
“All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads; ‘He trusts in the LORD; let him deliver him; let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”

MATTHEW 27:39-43
“And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads….so also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying…, ‘He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him.’”

Other obvious Messianic prophecies in Psalm 22 include verse 16 (“they have pierced my hands and feet”) and verse 18 (“they divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots”). These are just a few examples; it is not my goal right now to delve into all the parallels between Psalm 22 and the crucifixion.  The point is, Jesus isn’t just fulfilling an isolated phrase that applies to him.  Psalm 22 is drenched in prophecy about Jesus.

Then about two-thirds of the way through the psalm, there is a sudden shift.  Verse 21 begins with David’s final plea, “Save me from the mouth of the lion!”  And then we suddenly have an abrupt change.  Verse 21 continues, “You have rescued me…” or some translations, “you have answered me.”  And for the remaining ten verses he sings God’s praises.  “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.   You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him, and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”  David continues, predicting the glorious reign of God over all the earth: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you.  For kingship belongs to the LORD, and he rules over the nations.”  He says that the renown of the Lord will be passed down from generation to generation, closing with verse 31, “they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.”  Those final words, “he has done it,” are remarkably similar to the last words of Christ, “It is finished.” 

Actually both of those phrases are just a single word in the original languages.  Psalm 22:31 ends with the Hebrew word “asah” which can be translated as do or done, make or made, accomplish, cause, appointed, execute, fulfill, etc.

The English translation of John 19:30, where we have the words, “It is finished,” comes from the Greek word “tetelestai,” which is very similar in meaning to the Hebrew word “asah” used in Psalm 22:31.  It does not just mean that something is now over; it contains the sense that something has been completed, fulfilled, accomplished, or satisfied.

Now, I don’t want to make too much out of a single word, especially since we don’t even know for sure what particular word Jesus actually used.  The gospels of Matthew and Mark tell us that Jesus quoted Psalm 22:1 in Aramaic, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani”, and it is doubtful that he suddenly switched to speaking Greek when the Apostle John recorded his final words in John 19:30. Thus, John’s choice of the Greek word tetelestai is probably a translation of what Jesus said, and while it is inspired Scripture, we shouldn’t read too much into the dictionary definitions of the word selection.  However, I would like to give a few examples that will hopefully serve to give a better understanding of how the original readers of John’s gospel likely understood the word tetelestai.  According to what I’ve read, this word might have been used by an artist upon completion of his work; a painter pulling the brush away from his final stroke, or a sculptor having taken hammer to chisel for the last time and brushing the last bit of dust off his completed work; a chef placing the final garnish on his creation: “Perfect!”  It might have been used by a servant reporting back to his master that he had successfully completed his assignment.  A priest might have said it after a sacrifice had been offered.  A judge might have used this word to signify that the sentence for a crime had been completed; justice has been satisfied!  It could have been used in a commercial sense when certifying that a debt or invoice had been paid.  And finally, it could also be used in a military context, as a victorious battle cry: “The foe is vanquished, it’s over, I won!”  We could perhaps read each of these uses into the final words of Jesus, as God was certainly creating a masterpiece with his plan of salvation; Jesus was an obedient servant, who offered a perfect sacrifice, satisfying the requirements of justice, paying a debt that was owed, and defeating the enemy.  All these uses would be true, but that is not to say that Jesus necessarily had all these aspects in mind and was intentionally trying to convey each of these aspects with what he said.  However, the point I want to make is that his final cry of “It is finished” was not a cry of despair or resignation simply to indicate that his life was over.  It was a declaration that his work was completed, he had fulfilled what he had been sent to do.  The best explanation for what Jesus meant is found two verses earlier in John 19:28, “Jesus, knowing that all was now finished…”  Or, depending on the translation, “knowing that all things were now accomplished, or completed.”  The same word tetelestai is used there.  Jesus knows that he has reached the goal, he has finished the race, and satisfied what God sent him to accomplish.

The gospel writers make it abundantly clear that Jesus’ actions on earth were fulfilling scripture.  Jesus himself said on numerous occasions that he had come to do the will of the Father, to accomplish his work.

David ended Psalm 22 with the word, “He has done it.”  He foresees the glorious reign of the Lord over all the earth as being accomplished.  Jesus gives his final breath on the cross with the word, “I have done it.”  The work that needed to be done, the plan that God had laid out, has been completed; it is finished.

Friday is not a day of defeat, leaving Jesus waiting for a day of victory to arrive.  He is not “down for the count” on Friday, waiting for Sunday to make his comeback.  He won on Friday.  The implementation of the plan is complete.  He has done it.  It is finished.  The rest is vindication, proof, waiting for the rest of the dominoes to fall.  To reference The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, there is a “deeper magic from before the dawn of time” that is at work here.  What Satan thought was a victory for him, was actually the promised seed of Genesis 3:15 striking the fatal blow.

And so, I conclude that it is appropriate that we celebrate the victory that was achieved on Good Friday.  And on Sunday, we will celebrate even more, because Christ is risen!

Soteriological Summary

Pelagianism

Grace is optional.  Man is inherently capable of obeying God.  As the first man, Adam typified the choice that every human makes to obey or disobey God.  His “original sin” was simply the first sin, and sets a bad example for the rest of humanity, but did not change the subsequent nature of mankind or destroy man’s ability to obey.  As the “second Adam,” Jesus sets a good example of a man who consistently obeyed God.  Jesus’ death on the cross is not necessary for man’s redemption, but represents the ultimate act of selflessness to inspire man to endure suffering and sacrifice his own desires.

Analogy:  A man is swimming in the ocean.  He can make the decision to swim to safety, where God stands on the shore calling, or he can ignore God and stay out in the water where he will eventually drown.

Semi-pelagianism

Grace is necessary, in part.  Man is inherently capable of hearing God’s voice and choosing to obey, but his ability to actually obey has been damaged (the result of inheriting a corrupted nature from Adam).  In response to man’s decision to obey, God extends his grace to enable man to obey.

Analogy: A man is close to drowning in the ocean.  If he tries to swim to shore, he will in fact drown.  He sees and hears God on the shore, and he calls out to God for help.  In response, God provides a life jacket so that the man may safely swim to shore.

Arminianism

Grace is necessary, but not sufficient.  As a result of Adam’s sin, man now has a sin nature that is so thoroughly corrupted that he has lost all ability to please God.  However, God in his grace, has extended prevenient grace to all men, effectively counteracting total depravity, leaving man still depraved (totally depraved, in and of himself), but now with the undeserved (and foreign to his own nature) ability to respond to God’s gift of salvation.  Man can choose to accept God’s grace, receive a new nature, and rely on God’s grace for salvation, or he can choose to reject God’s grace and remain in (or, at a later date, return to) his depraved condition.

Analogy: A man is drowning in the ocean, and has lost consciousness.  God awakens the man, places him on a lifeboat and begins pulling the man to shore.  As long as the man does not intentionally get off the lifeboat, he will be saved.

Calvinism (aka Augustinianism)

Grace is necessary and sufficient.  As a result of Adam’s sin, man now has a sin nature that is so thoroughly corrupted that he has lost all ability to please God.  The only way for man to respond positively to God is for God to replace the dead heart of stone with a new nature, a nature that is inherited from Jesus instead of Adam.  As a result of God’s regeneration, those whom God has elected will freely respond in obedience to God.

Analogy: A man has drowned in the ocean.  God sends Jesus to breathe new life into the man and carry him to shore.