Fox News got me again. My entire family was still asleep. I was in that awkward moment where I was about to get up and start my day, but the warmth under the covers was just too enticing to leave. So, I opened FoxNews.com on my phone. The title of the article I first opened reads, “Biden hits Trump for refusing to concede, says ‘national mask mandate’ discussed with govs.”
The words “national mask mandate” leapt off the screen way before the words “refusing to concede.” The temptation to read was overwhelming, so, admittedly, I read it. After reading the article, I felt compelled to share two perspectives about mask wearing because much discussion seems to be invading our social circles about the use of masks during this pandemic.
The American Perspectives
For some Americans, “mask mandate” sounds like a “Big Brother” move right out of George Orwell’s 1984. The idea of our elected government “mandating” its citizens to wear a mask seems like an infringement on our constitutional rights as Americans. The phrase could imply that America may no longer be the “Land of the Free.” Perhaps many of you feel this tension when our elected officials are trying to push a “mask mandate” on its body of citizens.
The alternative American approach is that masks should be mandated by the government to slow the spread of the Coronavirus. This view implies that the government’s policy on mask wearing is not an infringement upon constitutional rights, but rather a way to protect those who live in America. Perhaps many of you who hold to this perspective feel that it is the responsibility of our elected officials to serve their constituents by protecting them.
From what I can see, both of these American perspectives I have broadly summarized have some validity to them. Both sides are trying to argue their positions from two categories that are a benefit to all people: rights and service. Therefore, we can conclude one area of common ground: both sides are trying to do what they think is best for the country. Maybe this should cause us to be better at dialoging between the two positions instead of belittling one another via social media grudge matches . . . but that is a blog post for another day.
A Christian Perspective
As I have thought about wearing masks, I have decided to take a different approach or what I’m calling a Great Commandment approach to the dawning of the mask due to COVID-19’s global impact on people’s health. I would like to share my thoughts on why I choose to wear a mask based on Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 22:34-40. Thus, maybe–just maybe–we can add a new voice, a Christian perspective, about wearing masks in this pandemic.
Matthew 22:34 begins with this scene. Jesus has just told the Sadducees they had a wrong view about the resurrections in Matthew 22:29–the Sadducees did not believe in a resurrection (Matt 22:23). After Jesus “astonished” the crowds with his teaching, he concluded, “He [God] is not God of the dead, but of the living” (Matt 22:32). Then, a lawyer of the Pharisees asked Jesus this question, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law” (Matt 22:36)? Jesus responds with this answer, which I will provide in full:
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”Matthew 22:37-40
You may be asking, “What does this have to do with masks?” I want to submit to you that Jesus teaches that our freedoms are restricted as followers of Christ, and we do not need a government mask mandate because the moral law prescribes how we are to love our neighbor during the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, I would like to provide three thoughts for Christians about mask wearing that have informed my Christian perspective.
Love of God
Jesus begins his answer by explaining to the crowd that “the great and first commandment” is to love the Lord your God. Before we can move to obedience and love of neighbor, we must first love God by responding to the gospel. We must first believe in Christ’s work on our behalf–his perfect life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection–and respond to that work by faith, which leads to a relationship and love for God. Jesus is the only way that we can turn to love the Lord our God entirely (i.e., all our heart, soul, and mind).
First John 4:9-10 explains God’s love for fallen and broken humanity when he wrote, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 Jn 4:9-10). The word propitiation can mean to satisfy. God loves you and me, and his love is demonstrated by him sending his Son to take the punishment for our sin and satisfy his wrath.
When we trust (i.e., respond by faith) in what Christ has done because of God’s love for us, we turn from sin to a love for God. However, this love has implications for Jesus’s disciples. Our love for God means that we submit our lives to God. Think of it like a marriage. When a husband and a wife give themselves over to one another in marriage, they are expressing to one another that they intend to love each other completely or with every fiber of their being. The same is true of our love for God. Our love for God ought to impact every aspect of our lives from our souls to our minds and our actions. In fact, Jesus states, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (Jn 14:15), and “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). Loving God is the affection of the Christian that informs the rest of their words, thoughts, and deeds.
Love of Neighbor
Christian, you cannot truly love your neighbor until you first have a true and faithful love for God. It is only once you and I understand God’s love for us manifested in Christ that we can truly turn around and love those around us. This is why Jesus responds to the Pharisee lawyer with “And a second is like it” (Matt 22:39). I think of Jesus seeing the lawyer and his Pharisee pals shaking their heads in agreement because they were taught this truth since they were young from Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and he goes “Oh, by the way, don’t forget,” “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:39).
In a similar passage, Jesus was asked how to inherit eternal life by another lawyer. Jesus responded to this person with two questions, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it” (Luke 10:26). The lawyer responds with the same words Jesus said in Matthew 22. Jesus gives him the thumbs up, but the lawyer is still struggling to comprehend so he asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds with the parable of the Good Samaritan. The point of this parable is that a love for God through faith in Christ leads a believer towards love and mercy for those around them. The Great Commandment text discusses how loving God tends to lead a person towards loving their neighbor.
But, what does this love look like? Jesus answers: “as yourself” (Matt 22:39). We have to admit that we are pretty good at loving ourselves. If you are hungry, you love yourself by eating. If you are thirsty, you love yourself by getting a drink. If you are selfish, you love yourself by taking the last donut. If you are self-centered, you love yourself by making sure everyone knows how “awesome” you are. Seriously, the list could go on and on, but the point remains valid that we are good at loving ourselves. We all have an inherent ability to be like Donna and Tom from the episode in “Parks and Rec” where we live by the mantra “treat yo self.” Jesus teaches that when we truly love the lord our God with every fiber of our being it manifests (I use this word purposely to make your remember Christ) into a love for our neighbor.
A Lawful Love
Jesus concludes the Great Commandment with these words, “On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:40). Now that we have a firm grasp on love of God and Love of Neighbor, we can move to the issue of “mask wearing.” These two truths are what make a Christian perspective different from the two American perspectives. As Christians, the government doesn’t have to tell us to wear a mask because we live by what Christians for generations have called a “love ethic.” This ethic is established from the moral law of God. In other words, I love my neighbor the way God’s law commands me to love them. This love is not arbitrary but rather objective. The only way to love my neighbor is by loving them the way the moral law tells me, which is directed by God himself in Scripture.
For application, let’s walk through these concepts systematically to find out a Christian attitude towards dawning a mask during COVID-19. First, we love God with all our heart, soul, and mind. A total love that requires submission and obedience to God because we are in a relationship to him through Christ. Next, our love for God moves us to a love for our neighbor. Who is our neighbor? Everyone we connect with socially. Finally, we may ask the question, “How can I love my neighbor well according to the Law?” Answer: a lawful love is wearing a mask to protect my neighbor from COVID-19.
John Calvin taught that the moral law can be summarized in the Ten Commandments. I think that a Christian perspective of mask wearing is found in the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13). I’m not saying that not wearing a mask is equivalent to murder. But, as I have argued elsewhere, this commandment exhorts the principle of carefulness. Therefore, the logical progression for a love ethic as it pertains to mask wearing is: I love God, the God of life commands me to respect and value all human beings, thus, I wear a mask to love all those around me (my neighbor) so that they know I love them and value them enough to protect them from possibly contracting COVID-19.
Hopefully, looking at Jesus’s words in the Great Commandment will help you think less about a political view about mask wearing and more about how a Christian might take Jesus’s words and put them into practice when it comes to wearing a mask during these unprecedented times. I would like to end this post with the words from the Apostle Paul to the church of the Thessalonians, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all” (2 Thess 3:18).
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