What equals love? Well, if you asked Jesus I think he would say something like laying your life down for your friends (John 15:13). If you asked Paul, he’d define it this way: “Love is patient and kind; rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…” (1 Corinthians 13:4, 6-8a amended). The wise king Solomon would tell you “love covers all offenses” (Proverbs 10:12b). So I think that it’s easy enough to infer that love is something inside us, qualities we have, that are designed with direction, with purpose. And that they manifest themselves as actions we take towards that purpose.
Still even with the clarity of what the word of God says love is, it always helps to have a contrast to sharpen one’s focus. So what is love not? Well we know from Paul that “love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing.” (1 Corinthians 13:5, 7b amended). And yet, I can’t help but look across the landscape of our nation, our world, and see a different narrative.
Hold on, now I can almost hear you saying to yourself “oh great, he’s going to talk about how secular culture says love is [insert your own sinful ideology here] and I already know that we as Christians are different” and getting ready to click off to another website. So let’s both take a second and live inside the shock of what I’m about to say. You can still click off this blog if you like, but at least you’ll be rightly upset. I see a different narrative from the pulpit of churches all across this nation and beyond.
Oh good, you’re still reading. I guess that means either you want to know exactly how far to go in your frustrations at me as the author here or you’re curious about what on earth I mean, so let’s get into it then shall we?
All over God’s creation we have pastors, theologians, and Christians from all background and educational levels taking to their social media, or to their pulpits or to their neighborhood and friend groups and saying things like “Loving the world during a pandemic is different.” I’ve heard it said this way as well “You know, wearing a mask shows you love others.” It’s important that we distinguish here the fact that there are mandates by the government of some areas of our country that require the wearing of masks and it’s important too that I take an opportunity to say that I am not endorsing the wearing or not wearing of masks. What I am getting at here is that Christians have chosen sides and created new phrases like “maskers” and “anti-maskers” and began to drive a narrative about which side is biblical.
I have news for you my friends, neither side is biblical. Jesus never said anything about facial coverings that has anything to do with the 2019/20/21 dumpster fire that our society finds itself in. Neither did any of the major or minor prophets, or Moses, or Paul or any other biblical author of the old or new testament. What God tells us is that Love is patient. It is kind and truthful and hopeful and so many things that are behavioral and from within. So when someone says that wearing a mask shows you love someone, or when #maskequalslove is trending, they are not, and I repeat NOT exegeting scripture, they are choosing a side in a secular argument. As Christians, our job is not to choose sides in that way. Our calling as believers is to build the kingdom of God and while that means that we follow the authorities because they were put there by God (Romans 13:1, emphasis added), it does not mean that we are to make those mandates into gospel truth.
I’m not writing this to tell you wearing a mask is a good idea or a bad idea. I have my opinions on it based on the extensive research I’ve done over the more than a year since we first encountered a COVID shaped world and this is not the place to share those opinions. I’d be happy to talk with you more directly so feel free to reach out. I am however, writing this to tell you that saying wearing a mask has anything to do with love is outrageous. If a brother or sister in Christ is afraid of death from COVID, I submit to you that you have a responsibility to say and do a few things, especially as pastors and leaders. First and foremost is to say that we are not called by the Lord to live in a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7a). Second is to remind them of what it is that we have to look forward to with Christ (Revelation 4, 21 and 22), as well as what we are called to do while still here in this present space regarding the gathering of God’s people. We learn from the author of Hebrews that we are not to “neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another” (Hebrews 10:25 b) and there are many, many ways to do that in this current reality. Utilize virtual gatherings, sure. But gather together as the people of God for the building of His kingdom the way we are supposed too — the way it is natural to do. If you “need” to wear a mask, make that choice, remembering that the rest of 2 Timothy 1:7 is that we are called to live with a “sound mind” (New King James Version) which means thinking through the reality of our choices. Masks serve a function and you need to be sure, by actually researching, that you are wearing it for that function and not because you think it somehow means you are loving your neighbor.
I know you can make the argument, and many are doing exactly this, that your neighbors are afraid to get sick and or are at risk of getting sick and wearing the mask is a way to love them. I have news for you, not all of your neighbors are afraid of getting sick. Many of my neighbors, both in the literal and in the biblical sense of the word, are afraid that the world is never going to go back to a sane status quo. They’re sick of being forced to stay home, being limited on the recreation they can engage in, being oppressed in any number of very small to very large ways and they see the wearing of a mask as the government imposing unjust authority on their liberties or as a sign that fear is becoming normalized. They don’t think you’re sharing a message of love by wearing it, they think you are sharing a message of, among other things, fear. You’ve created, or are taking part in an already created, conceptualization of what society et al, that is your neighbors, consists of. And that is simply not the case.
I believe very strongly that nothing good is accomplished in isolation. And before you get all “Well Adam, Jesus went off alone all the time and He accomplished a lot.” or something like that let me remind you that he left his terrestrial community to find communion with the Spirit of the Lord through prayer and that is by far not the same thing. We need to come together. If you need to have a mask on to feel safe, by all means please do. And if you are engaging one-on-one with someone who would feel safer if you had on a mask than again by all means put one on. But if your brother or sister in Christ does not feel safe with a mask on for any reason, none of which are for you to criticize, then don’t ask them to and don’t look down upon them for it. If you think they are making you unsafe then simply choose to stay the recommended distance away from them, exercise proper hygiene and or avoid interaction with them, remembering that God’s grace is just as much for you as for them and the Jesus Christ died for the sins of the elect, not for the the maskers or the anti-maskers and all we need to do to love people, to really truly love people, is “in everything (not only in things you agree with), do to others what you would have them do to you (Matthew 7:12 emphasis added).
I’ll close with two things. First, you don’t have to agree with what I’m saying. We have as much a right to disagree with each other as we do anything else in this country. If you’re mad at any of the points I made that’s fine, take that up with God if the point came from His word and take it up with me if the point was made in my words. Iron sharpens iron and I welcome the open, honest, non-confrontational discussion we will certainly have. Second, if the idea is to use a cute math-esq illustration to discuss love then it is most certainly not mask=love. Instead, it is most definitely, just ask John, that God = Love.
Adam Sculnick — Sinner, Saint, Servant. Executive Director of CIA Boys Club, loving husband, proud father of 3 and author. Adam has a passion for the spreading of God’s word, the raising up of leaders young and old and an affinity for sharing all that he’s learned. Follow him @ciaboysclub