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Leviticus, Coronavirus and Good Friday

This past week, my Bible reading plan took me through Leviticus 13 and 14. It struck me like never before the parallels there are to our current situation of a global pandemic. This won’t be a detailed article or exposition of these chapters, but I want you to make some enlightening if not transformative connections. I would like to do so  through three parallels: light, tight and eternal. 

Light

None of these parallels come through adhering to the exact levitical prescriptions. These two chapters would fall generally under a simple heading of “ceremonial” laws. What in the past has seemed to me archaic or strange all of a sudden jumped off the page to me in April of 2020. The surprising connection I made this week is the use of the word or idea of ‘quarantine’ (using the Christian Standard Bible translation, 13:5, 21, 31, 33, 46, and 14:8 speaking of humans; 13:50 and 54, referring to fabrics or materials). Check this out— “The person who has a case of serious skin disease is to have his clothes torn and his hair hanging loose, and he must cover his mouth and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’ He will remain unclean as long as he has the disease; he is unclean. He must live alone in a place outside the camp” (Leviticus 13:45-46). The sobering part of this is that the diseased person had to voluntarily proclaim his uncleanness, and he had to temporarily dwell in a designated sanitarium away from the rest of the populace. The ‘light’ connection here is the fact that the society of the redeemed (Israel) practiced a kind of social distancing and isolation of certain infirmed people who had conditions that were ‘spreading’ on their own bodies. 

Tight

A closer or tighter connection I made was through the question: ‘how do these detailed prescriptions about cleansing from disease’ relay back to the BIG (10) commandments or the Great commandments? While I’m still mulling over how skin disease laws connect to the 10, it became clear that the practice of quarantine assumedly also targeted the whole ‘camp’ of Israel, that is, the greater good of the whole nation. The meticulous check ups with a priest, the separation of the sick from the healthy and the days of waiting weren’t about shaming the sick but loving the (still healthy) neighbor. “Love your neighbor as yourself (Leviticus 19:18).” What seems odd or outmoded to our modern sensibilities was actually understandable in the ancient Near Eastern culture that Israel inhabited. In fact, it was a kind of “higher road” among the nations which makes for yet another tight connection to the supreme commandment. The God of Israel is a holy God, and he was intending to make a holy people unlike the rest of the nations around them. To quarantine oneself, test a piece of fabric or remove a mildewed stone from one’s house wasn’t merely appeasing the demands of a whimsical deity. It was an act of devotion to the one true God. It was faith in action. And, so were the consequent sacrifices made for purification from diseases. Ancient Israel’s skin disease protocols and the global/national/local protocols being issued ultimately are for the safety and good of the whole. No one likes our current immobility; this imposed asylum that seems more insane with every passing day. But, it’s NOT new and in God’s common grace to the whole world he created, it is loving our neighbors.

Eternal

The uncanny parallel of greatest significance is that the Coronavirus global pandemic is a small scale of the universality of sin and the depravity of every human being. See how some airborne particles at a family reunion can infect a dozen and kill a couple? Well, multiply that exponentially to the human race of all time past, present and future, and you have a global killer on your hands. The insidious part is that many people experience the effects of it but are helpless, blind and unable to tie it back to the original carrier and/or helplessly grope for a patch to fix it. Patches are useless on corpses.

Sin kills everyone. We come into this world with a death sentence (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:1-2). You can’t throw enough money, research, technology, education, isolation or unification at global a killer as toxic and viral as sin. It’ll never reach the infinitely bottomless coffers of God’s demands. 

The skin/material disease protocols of ancient Israel were ‘lifted’ by the slaughter of animals. These sacrificial rites of purification (Leviticus 14:5, 13, 19, 25, 29, 31) were a right back into the covenant community as a clean citizen. The ‘atonement’ was the price of redemption or reconciliation to your home and tribe and nation. 

But, God the Holy Spirit, all along was making it clear even in Leviticus that such ceremonial prescriptions were just ‘physical’ in nature. The accompanying sacrifices for cleansing and transition back into “normality” couldn’t cleanse the conscience perfectly (Hebrews 9:8ff). Built into those laws was a momentary pragmatism that couldn’t atone for what couldn’t be seen or healed (Hebrews 9:13).  

We Need ‘Bigger Guns’

As unpleasantly disruptive and lethal as COVID-19 is, and as distantly quirky the Levitical laws seem to us, Good Friday layers over them like a diamond on its black felt background. Our efforts to make the world a better place are like taking spit wads to the rock of Gibraltar. Coronavirus or the next virus and the next one aren’t anything compared to the devastation of sin. We need to call in the ‘big guns’. ‘Big guns’ are needed for big problems. And, that is the point of Hebrews when it says: “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works so that we can serve the living God?” (9:14). Jesus’ death is what saves. It’s a big gun. In fact, the only one.

As a Christian, you may be bummed to have to watch a Good Friday or Easter service as if you’re streaming Hulu. But, maybe, you and I can get over the effects of this pandemic and see God teaching and reminding us of great eternal truths. Maybe, just maybe, the Holy Spirit is using global disruption to cleanse his people’s consciences from the dead weight we feel in ourselves these days to prepare us for more pure and vibrant service to our living God. 

This Good Friday will be unforgettable, but let the greatest remembrance be that the blood of Jesus spoke to us a better word than the tireless glows of streamed church gatherings or distant religious rituals ever could.

God is Greater Than Our Heart

You’ve probably heard it: the judge within you whispering (and maybe sometimes shouting) doubt and condemnation. But, rest assured: that's not the final word on you, believer.

The book of First John is a lighthouse bright for the darkness and brimming with rich Gospel assurances. You can’t read that letter from pastor-apostle John without being both challenged and comforted.

John was probably Jesus’ bosom buddy of all the Twelve. Peter might have been the leader entrusted with the birth and formation of the new covenant Church, but John got Jesus’ heart and pastored like him. We get 5 of the 27 New Testament books from this John (Gospel, 3 letters and the Revelation). St. John was a “specialist” in Christian assurance (Gospel of John 20:31; 21:24). Right knowledge is vital to a living, assured faith. He uses the word ‘know’ A LOT. For instance, he states:

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God.”

1 John 3:19-21

 True faith is an abiding reality no matter how small or mature it is. The measure of one’s faith is not dependent on the object of their faith.  True faith never goes beyond the pale into rank, damnable unbelief. Though related, however, assurance of faith and grace isn’t always a steady state. Just notice the two “ifs” above. It doesn’t mean we’re less saved. It just means that due to one or multiple variables (like personality, health, sin or circumstances), we may be less sure at times than at others. Often a believer’s doubt or self-condemnation is a result of a guilty conscience. Real, damnable guilt was dealt with once and for all on the cross. Yet, that is precisely one of the ongoing struggles for the Christian— distinguishing between guilt and genuine conviction of sin.

John helps pacify the troubled conscience with two assurances. In fact, some Bible versions (NET and CSB) viably translate ‘heart’ (cardia) as ‘conscience’:

  1. Looking Back: If we look back to the previous verses (3:18), it talks about how true faith demonstrates in visible sacrificial deeds towards the brothers; not just talks about it. If we can look back and see that we have shown love for God’s children, then, we can take that as a mark of divine love at work within us. We’re assured!
  2. Looking Up: As Doug O’Donnell quips: “Our hearts don’t always align with our heads.” We go looking within or listening to ourselves or other accusations more often than not. John intercepts us as we’re headed into yet another one of our tailspins of guilt. The late Dr. James Boice summarized this as ‘faith must be fed by knowledge of what is true about God.’ In other words, we should look forward or out and up at God and his verdict; not our experiences. When our hearts pound the gavel again and again, must take comfort in God’s greatness and omniscience. God is greater than our hearts. He knows us better than we know ourselves. God’s omniscience usually (and rightfully) is a deterrent to sin, but here in 1 John it is a comfort over our condemnation. Yes, God knows your woefully repeated failures. Yet, God knows what he has done for you, and that is so much greater than anything you’ve committed or omitted. Instead of defensively telling yourself or others the usual ‘God knows my heart’, tell your Accuser (which is what Satan means): “You are right. I am that and worse, but God through Christ has forgiven me, and I am dressed HIS righteousness alone. God is greater than my heart.” Resist the accusations like that.

“When Satan tempts me to despair

And tells me of the guilt within,

Upward I look and see Him there,

Who made an end to all my sin…”

(Before the Throne of God Above)

 And then, be at ease when there aren’t those accusations (verse 21). Enjoy confidence before God. Timidity, fear and guilt are not the emotions that our good Father wants us to have. Go ahead, beloved child of God dressed like Jesus the Son, hop into your Father’s lap and ask away.

Dear Saint, rest— assured.

 

Part two on Christian assurance from First John… next week.

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