Mask Mandate? Christian, the Great Commandment Informs Our View About Masks

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.

Jesus’s Teaching

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.

Conclusion

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).

If you found this content helpful, please click “follow” at the bottom in order to get the latest posts sent directly to your email.

Please feel free to share any questions or insights in the comments section below.

3 Reasons I Deactivated My Facebook Account

It’s no secret that I am a critic of social media. About a year ago, I posted a blog titled, “Why I Deleted my Twitter Account.” The final sentence of that blog post reads, “At this time, I have deleted both my Twitter and Instagram, and pretty soon, Facebook, you might be next.” Well, the time has come for you, Facebook. You have been “deactivated.” Goodbye. Au revoir. Farewell.

The reason I “deactivated” instead of “deleted” (there is a difference) my Facebook account is that I remain optimistic. I believe that Facebook was created with good intentions, but because we are human and prone by our sinful nature to take good things and make them evil, I think we, society, can correct the problems social media platforms like Facebook are causing. Therefore, I have deactivated instead of deleting my account with the hope that the wrongs can be righted, and once they are, I might rejoin the Facebook community.

So, why did I deactivate my Facebook account? Let me provide you with 3 reasons that may encourage you to do the same:

  • Facebook Wastes Precious Time. Facebook’s design is to keep you attached to your phone or computer as long as possible so they can make money. The design is so well done that many social media users are like Gollum in the “Lord of Rings” just scrolling along in our digital caves not knowing a real world exists beyond the Facebook app while simultaneously chanting in our hearts, “My precious.”

By the way, we waste time because we are infatuated with the what could be next on our newsfeed. You know you may be wasting your day on social media apps when someone interrupts your time on the “precious” and you turn into Smeagol by yelling at the person, “I’m ON MY PRECIOUS!” What I am trying to convey is that Facebook will destroy the time in your day. It’s designed to waste your time, which means you will miss precious moments with the love of your life (if you have one), family, friends, and enjoying the world we actually live in not the imaginary one that Facebook makes you believe exists.

  • Facebook Destroys Diplomacy. I know you have seen it on your Facebook news feed, and I was tired of seeing this problem during this election year so I deactivated my account. Someone “shares what’s on their mind,” and the lines for debate are drawn in the social media sand. Often times, the comment wars are verbally bloody with many casualties and collateral damage. Words that would never be said in person are carelessly lobbed like hand grenades in the digital sphere. Why is this the case? Because we are social beings that engage in real space and time. When we are having in person discussions, many of us are more reserved and respectful when engaging in debate because we can feel the tension of the other person if such tension is present. Facebook does not allow these types of discussions to convey all the types of communication forms humans are endowed with, such as, but not limited to: body language, tone, facial expressions, etc. Facebook destroys diplomacy, and I would rather have humane discussions and debates in person rather than through a social media platform like Facebook. I think the lack of diplomacy is contributing to the rising division in our country and this is a result of the way we debate through social media channels.
  • Facebook Is Invasive: This point is a self-inflicted wound to our private lives. Yet, we allow it to happen. Facebook allows us to practically post anything we desire for the digital world to see. We willingly and ignorantly allow people into our lives that we have little if any contact with in the real world. We do this by sharing our opinions, photos, and even our location. Why do I care if some person I met fifteen years ago in a class at Texas A&M sees that I’m at chapel with our oldest daughter? In fact, it’s a bit creepy that a person who I hardly knew in the past has open access to my social media life. I would argue that you can and should scrub your Facebook friends list, but that only solves a small part of the invasive problem. When we activate a Facebook account, we are agreeing to let Facebook into our lives as well. The company is able to use our information to keep us active on their social media platform and influence us through our newsfeed. Honestly, I deactivated my account because I don’t want my privacy to be violated by anyone I don’t choose to allow to come into my reality.

These are my 3 reasons for deactivating my Facebook account, and my post is not designed to tell you what to do about your social media account or accounts or use. However, I hope it will make you, at least, think about the impact social media platforms like Facebook are doing to your life. Perhaps with some honest thought you may choose to do the same or modify your use on social media apps.

May I take a moment to be honest with you? Deactivating Facebook will give you a new sense of freedom. It might be scary to do it at first, but after the first day you will feel a relief you haven’t felt since you signed up with that username and password. I believe you won’t miss it, and you will never look back once its gone. I want to encourage you to get out of the digital cave and enjoy and experience the people and world around you today by either eliminating or limiting your time on social media. Your family, friends, and the world will thank you for being truly social.

If you found this content helpful, please click “follow” at the bottom in order to get the latest posts sent directly to your email.

Please feel free to share any comments or insights in the section below.

A Clarification of Frame’s Doctrine of Carefulness

In chapter 35, I argued from the manslaughter legislation of the Mosaic law the principle that we should not only avoid murder, but should also be very careful to guard against the possible destruction of human life….But where it is evident that carelessness can lead and has led to tragedy, we must take precautions (The Doctrine of the Christian Life (DCL), 724, emphasis original).

John M. Frame

Anyone who knows me in an academic setting, will confirm that I like to call myself a “Frame fan.” His book, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (DCL), has greatly influenced my thinking as I continue to grow as a scholar, budding scholar perhaps is a better phrase, in the discipline of Christian Ethics. In fact, I requested him to be my major figure for comprehensive exams because of how much his writings have influenced me. I was disheartened when he retired from Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida the semester before I was going to ask him to take me on as a student for an independent study. By the way, I still asked, and he graciously and respectfully declined because after all, he had retired.

Even though I am a self-proclaimed “Frame fan,” I still have moments where I might disagree with his ethical framework or thought. What can I say? Scholarship is about refining ideas through rigorous study, thought, and critique. While I think his triperspectival methodology is helpful for handling moral dilemmas, scholars could argue that his method could have some faults. Again, this is part of scholarship, and scholarship is not for the faint of heart. With that, I would like to critique Frame’s “Doctrine of Carefulness” wording with the intention to propose a better phrase for my future posts.

Frame’s Doctrine of Carefulness Explained

John Frame once wrote that we should “be very careful to guard against the possible destruction of human life” (DCL, 724, emphasis original). In DCL he called this moral idea “The Doctrine of Carefulness.” Frame’s emphasis for this doctrine is that Christians who believe in the sanctity of human life should not only refrain from disobeying the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder,” but also, that followers of Christ ought to avoid any situation that puts life in danger of being taken. In fact, Frame rightly points out that the sixth commandment does forbid the idea of unlawfully taking a life–what we might refer to as murder, but the Hebrew word also conveys that humanity is to “take precautions against the loss of life” (DCL, 688). In other words, to practice the art of carefulness so as to not accidently cause a life to be prematurely terminated.

For example, Deuteronomy 22:8-10 reads, “If you build a house, make sure to put a low wall around the edge of the flat roof. Then if someone falls off the roof and is killed, it won’t be your fault.” In this time period, the roof was used as a place where friends and family would congregate to enjoy each other’s company. Perhaps you could think of it as the premier patio that oversees the city. Without a wall around the roof, someone could unintentionally fall to their death. Notice, however, that if a person died from falling when no fence was present, the homeowners were held responsible. “It won’t be your fault” if one obeyed this civil law implies that if no wall is present then it is “your” fault.

Why is the homeowner at fault for their guest falling off the roof and dying? Don’t we have insurance companies for situations such as this? Even the accidental loss of life, exists as something worth grieving over when the idea of carefulness is neglected. The person who owned the home failed to protect life by inadequately creating a safe environment for his guests. To put it in terms of Frame’s doctrine of carefulness, the homeowner was careless with human life because they did not respect the lives of their guests enough to build a wall and protect those at the “dinner party.” Therefore, to use Frame’s wording for the doctrine of carefulness, “We must guard against the possibility that someone might be killed, being alert to correct life-threatening elements in situations” (DCL, 688).

Frame’s Doctrine of Carefulness Critiqued

From the outset, I think Frame’s understanding of biblical carefulness exists as a valid position that can be defended by Scripture. Those who hold that Scripture teaches an inviolability of life ethic–i.e. all human life is sacred–would do well to practice the notion of carefulness. In fact, my point in critiquing and developing this concept is to argue some best practices Christians should think through in applying this principle in various areas of life.

The issue I have with Frame’s thought is the phrase he utilizes to convey this ethic. I hesitate to call this a “doctrine” of carefulness. Doctrine seems to imply a definitive position or objective truth. When evangelicals speak of doctrine, we are typically using that term to argue for some type of non-negotiables of the Christian faith (i.e. the Trinity, the inerrancy of Scripture, the incarnation, the Imago Dei, the gospel, etc.). The Holloman Illustrated Bible Dictionary defines Doctrine as “Christian truth and teaching passed on from generation to generation as ‘the faith that was delivered to the saints'” (Jude 3 HCSB). In other words, Christian teaching derived from the Bible to explain and affirm essential truths of the faith to believers.

I am not saying that carefulness is not taught in Scripture nor is it something that isn’t being passed down from generation to generation, but rather I think that this moral responsibility is an application of a doctrine rather than a doctrine in and of itself. Therefore, Frame is expounding the notion of carefulness from the moral law summarized by the sixth commandment, which expresses the inherent worth and value of human beings made in God’s image. For this reason, I am arguing to modify Frame’s thought from the “doctrine of carefulness” to the “principle of carefulness.”

Carefulness could be considered a subjective term for each individual’s conscience, which is why, in my opinion, it is difficult to defend this concept as a “doctrine” (Frame acknowledges this difficulty on pp. 724-25 in footnote 7). For example, the speed limit in the United States is designed to keep drivers and passengers in all vehicles safe–thus, protecting life. If you and I were debating about how fast to drive on Interstate 5 in Los Angeles, California based on the concept of a doctrine of carefulness, you would think that both of us should say that we should drive at 70 miles per hour–the speed limit. If you have ever driven on certain parts of “The 5” you would know that this could be a dangerous course of action.

Drivers have to make continuous moral judgments on how fast they should drive depending on where they are and what is happening on Interstate 5. You might say that I need to drive 70 miles per hour to keep up with the traffic flow of other drivers so that I am not hit by other cars when driving too slow–“The 5” can be a fast-paced road during non-rush hour times. I might, in return, argue that going 5 miles under the speed limit is safer because coming over a hill or around a curve and seeing traffic backed up will allow you to react in a timely manner, thus preventing any accidents. Do you see how carefulness could be considered a subjective term? Therefore, I think that carefulness must be attached to an objective truth–i.e. the Imago Dei.

With this in mind, I prefer to designate the term “principle of carefulness” as the more appropriate phrase for believers. The applications of carefulness will vary (principle), but the respect for human life does not (doctrine). Go back to my example of our argument about driving on “The 5.” You and I are arguing different applications of the principle of carefulness, but we are making our cases with the same doctrine in view, all life is sacred because all people are made in God’s image. To put it another way, the principles that we arguing for are dependent upon the same doctrine we both believe in– i.e. the Imago Dei.

The Principle of Carefulness Concluded

To conclude, I agree with Frame that the Bible teaches Christians should uphold to such a high view of human beings made in God’s image so that we are constantly encouraged to “be very careful to guard against the possible destruction of human life” (DCL, 724, emphasis original). I think the phrase “principle of carefulness” exists as a better alternative to Frame’s use of “doctrine of carefulness” by recognizing the various applications that could be practiced by believers holding to an inviolability of life ethic. While the biblical warrant for Christians to favor life in all situations remains biblically justified, the principle can be applied differently depending upon the conditions. I am not arguing a situational ethic, I am holding to the biblical truth of the Imago Dei as the foundational doctrine for the principle of carefulness.