This is a true statement, and worthy of all the very online to be received, that, as Elon says, when the Wagner group is rolling up to the edge of Moscow, one member of a marriage will be trying to sleep, and the other will be up all night on Twitter (don’t click if you don’t like a certain rude word—although, at this point, I don’t know how you could survive online because it’s inescapable and functions practically as a phrase marker, like ‘like,’ and this post that I’ve written and you’re reading can only be accessed online, and so the long day wears on). Eventually, though, I did get sucked in. I slung mulch and tried to bring order out of chaos with a bud in my ear, rivetted by a live stream on, yes, again, Twitter, for that is where the news has gone.
Later in the day, I saw that same stream excoriated by others, for reasons I don’t quite understand, except that, in a strange and uncomfortable kind of reversal, the more immediate and available the news about something, the more the true facts are hidden and unknowable. At least, I can’t know them. Like everyone else, I’m going to have to wait for weeks or months until someone trustworthy (I don’t know who that could be) explains what just happened.
Every so often, the person organizing the dialogue—or conversation or whatever it is when ten people are all waiting for one second to talk and when they do they are interrupted by breaking news—would say something like, “We’re trying to verify this” or “we haven’t been able to verify this” or “you need to take everything we’re saying with a grain of salt because we can’t verify any of it.” Pity this week’s lections aren’t the Tower of Babel again.
Strangely and again, uncomfortably, yesterday wasn’t only the day that there was or was not, or perhaps will be, but also maybe not, a coup d’état in Russia, it was also the anniversary of the ending of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court. This I observed while pausing to scroll whenever the stream glitched, wondering if, by standing there, I could squeeze some satisfying knowledge out of my screen, like a ripe orange, instead of a hard, impenetrable rock. A variety of people were tweeting, both in lamentation and in joy, that for a whole year, states have had to go back to the drawing board and litigate the question of whether or not it’s acceptable to kill a baby before it’s born.
The end of Roe, as you might remember, was a mini apocalypse. It revealed the inclinations and assumptions of Christians across the country. In some corners, the rejoicing was plentiful and abundant. In others, there was a surprising murmuration of sorrow and scolding that there is still so much to do. Why sorrow? I’m not sure.
One place to go looking for answers, though not really the kind of ones that will make you feel better about anything, is the Bible. You might switch on the light in your closet looking for something to wear, and then pour yourself a coffee and scroll some more, and then finally climb into your car and drive however long it takes to get to some gathering of Christians who are just as woefully ignorant and sinful as you are. You can all sit together and listen to the texts together. Today’s lections are distressing, but they explain something essential about being both human and Christian. The more the world vilifies God, the more the hidden Spirit of God—whom no one can see or perceive, not even by the swipe of the thumb—organizes the affairs of his creatures to such a precise and peculiar degree that no ruler or mercenary or tweeter or principality or even abortion purveyor can escape or, indeed, overcome it.
Jeremiah’s tortured, almost Christological lament, “O Lord, you have deceived me, and I was deceived; you are stronger than I, and you have prevailed. I have become a laughingstock all the day; everyone mocks me,” is the suitable emotional backdrop for Jesus’ promises to those he loves best. “Behold,” he says, “I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” I can imagine Peter and John furrowing their brows and trying to shut out the torrent of clear and unmistakable speech. The image of a sheep “in the midst of wolves” is poignant and terrifying. Why would Jesus do that? Why wouldn’t he just destroy all the wolves?
And yet, he is going to destroy the chief of wolves, a few chapters later. Or at least cut the eternal fury of power and wroth out from underneath him. That is the very thing he is going to do, in such an unmistakable way that only two people standing by, the person who will have to practically bring it to pass—the Centurion—and the condemned thief suddenly understand what is happening. Peter and John, hiding, whispering, anxious, and afraid will take a little more time to catch on. Jesus continues:
Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to the courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.
Where do I sign up? This would be the perfect kind of Twitter thread to ratio. What should you do when this happens to you? Jesus is still speaking:
When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
What is it with Jesus and anxiety? Why does he always say not to be anxious at the precise moment when what he has said or done or promised is the most anxious and terrifying thing imaginable? Here, go to the household of Israel and tell them, relentlessly, about how wicked they are and that they must let their enemies carry them away, and all of them will hate you, and your eyes will grow dim, waiting for me, but don’t deny me or I will deny you. Here, be the mother of the Lord Christ—but don’t be afraid! Here, come with me into the Garden to pray right before I’m arrested. Here, one of you is a traitor, and my body will break and my blood will spill out onto the parched, dry ground. Here, you will definitely be overpowered by wicked people who hate me, who will certainly want to do you to death but don’t be anxious. Also, it’s worse than you thought for,
Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.
“Hate” in this case doesn’t have to be nuanced or explained with many words. It really means to be so angry and hateful that you would do someone to death without thinking about it very much. As we near the final days of this interminable pride month, there have been a lot of people who let this emotion publicly flicker across their faces. I watched—I’m not going to link them—some clips of that mob marching down the streets of NYC shouting, “We’re here, we’re queer, we’re coming for your children” in the midst of all my other scrolling, and my stomach turned over. It’s the same kind of feeling I get when I think of the people who just have to offer the killing of that silent, nearly invisible baby as the only solution to every woman’s intolerable misery. Why?
“But the one who endures to the end will be saved,” explains Jesus, answering the question you weren’t really asking. Then he gives instructions about what to do—“Flee”—and keep fleeing. Why? Why should you accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior in the most personal and intimate kind of way, where his Spirit comes to abide in you, overtaking your heart and mind, inclining your strength and will so inexorably towards himself that nothing can separate you from him, nor him from you? Because,
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.
And then, with this tempting fate hanging there in the air between you and the Lord, he tells you again—again—not to be afraid:
So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
As a child, I couldn’t hear the bit about the sparrow because I was so shocked by the idea of everything being known. The thoughts and inclinations of my heart should not be there for everyone to see, I was sure. Now, so many years later, as I spend hours of every week not looking at little sparrows, but clicking on the bluebird of opacity, looking for knowledge where there is none, for information where everyone most wants to lie, for happiness where only misery abides, I am relieved to admit that God knowing everything is good. There will be a final reckoning. No one who has tried to dupe the whole world will be able to get away with it. And the rules of the game–or rather, the promise of our Lord and Friend–are simple and knowable:
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.
There, in the middle of that long word, “acknowledge,” is the shorter one, “know.” It’s not some horrible test. It isn’t the unkindness of trying to measure up to God’s perfection, of accumulating all the information and then making the proper decision. No, it is the perfect trust, the satisfying love of God who does not do wicked things in the dark, but who goes into the midst of the wolves to save you.
So anyway, go to church! And find me on Substack.