I am attempting to process all that is going on in the world as a result of so called COVID19, and the economic fallout (Greatest Depression) it is producing (I am about to lose my job, or be furloughed from my job because of it). The absolute death and destruction this fiasco will cause is of biblical proportions, there is no doubt about that; for all with eyes to see and ears to hear (and I again am referring to the economic depression we are only just beginning to enter into as a result of the fear of this “plague”). My last post was quickly conceived, I wrote it in about fifteen minutes; but I wanted to at least unburden myself of some of the angst I’ve been experiencing from all that I have been seeing in the world. This post will likewise be in that vein, but hopefully it will have a little more substance to it than even my last one (although my last one, I think, had lots of undeveloped biblical substance to it). In this post I want to engage with the Barmen Declaration, and the natural theology that declaration is intent on confronting. After reflecting a bit on the Declaration, I will apply some of that to how I believe the leadership of the world, and here at home (in the USA) fits into what Barmen attempts to contradict by its slavish appeal to Jesus Christ, and the theology of the Word thereof.
But even before we jump into all of the aforementioned I want to share a word from a senior Lutheran theologian, Paul Hinlicky, who I’ve come to know more personally (via online), and his insights and sort of prophetic exhortation in regard to what the government’s response to the FEAR of Sars-Cov-2 has indeed produced; and more, what the Christian’s response should be to it. Hinlicky writes (vis a Facebook post):
I don’t like to play a gloom and doom Jeremiah, but I see so few facing reality. As usual, it seems, the stupid polarizations of our politics are at play once again – highly partisan arguments: as if widespread and rational fear of an uncontrolled contagion were not going to depress indefinitely commerce, as if the cure of economic lockdown were not as deadly or more as the coronavirus disease. It is a deadly conundrum. How many people will an American-led global depression kill?
The ugly truth is that the economic disaster has already happened. No matter how control of the pandemic turns out in the USA: with 26 + million currently unemployed, state and local governments especially those with unfunded pension liabilities nearing bankruptcy, hospitals, churches and universities and other nonprofit and charitable institutions profoundly distressed financially, and the federal deficit having grown by 4 trillion+ in a month’s time, adding to the 22 trillion already in deficit. And I just read that Social Security and Medicare will be unable to pay current claims after 2035.
We can neither grow our way nor tax our way out of this disaster. We are all going to suffer. And will the churches have anything to say about this except the usual pablum about God being with us no matter what? God as hapless pain, writ large – that is, hapless pain divinized – such is the false consolation and religious ideology of a culture unwilling to face its own greedy complicity in putting us on a course that a child could’ve seen was unsustainable. Our science and technology will eventually put an end to the pandemic, but it won’t, without cultural-spiritual change, put an end to our eminently predictable vulnerabilities in which the human race remains embedded in natural processes and not its transcendent master.
And to further explicate the above, in the comment thread following this post, in response to an interlocutor, Hinlicky explicates his aim with his post this way:
I’ve spent a theological career . . . battling for the pathos of God as costly grace. How quickly however the pathos of God becomes the pablum of cheap grace that I’m talking about! – an idea, rather than the person of Jesus Christ crucified and risen presented in word and sacrament so that we die to sin and rise to newness of life. What I was intimating in the post is that through the unraveling of the dogmas of our secular culture being affected by the pandemic, theology must discern the wrath of God, i.e. that God is against us who have set ourselves up as masters of nature in place of God rather than stewards of nature under the dominion of God.
There is much wisdom in Paul’s words; and a willingness to be forthright, and not dilly-dally about what in fact is happening and has already happened as a result of the bewildering response that has been made to ostensibly counter a ‘flu-like’ coronavirus. The picture he paints is rightfully dire, but what I want to pick up on is how he gets us into a discussion on natural theology. In particular it is these clauses that stand out most to me: “without cultural-spiritual change, put an end to our eminently predictable vulnerabilities in which the human race remains embedded in natural processes and not its transcendent master. . . .” and this: “What I was intimating in the post is that through the unraveling of the dogmas of our secular culture being affected by the pandemic, theology must discern the wrath of God, i.e. that God is against us who have set ourselves up as masters of nature in place of God rather than stewards of nature under the dominion of God.” So, the idea that we as humanity are the masters of the universe rather than the living God. It is this insidious and pervasive belief, particularly as that shapes the power structures of the world governments, and all of her acolytes, that I believe is at issue even now.
Whether or not the response to Sars-Cov-2 has been made in ‘good faith’ or not, it has clearly been ill-founded and conceived in regard to the proportion of the response and the fallout it would produce. It is as if the world leaders, including Trump, all reacted in a way that had no prudence and only superfluous reaction with no concept of what death and destruction would be unleashed by literally destroying the global economy. I personally believe there are much more sinister powers at work in all of this, and if the money is followed it is not hard at all to discern much of what that all is. But in order to not get too sidetracked on the details, let me simply say this: to plunge the whole wide world into an abyss of economic destruction, at the levels that it has been, for a virus that fits into the categories of illness we already deal with at an annual rate, is wicked, evil, and anti-Christ of the most deplorable sort. As Hinlicky has rightly noted, it reflects a ‘wisdom of this age’ that has already been formed by a sense of an apotheosis of materialism and consumerism the world over. In other words, the sort of mentality that could, and would plunge the world into the dire straits it has, completely out of proportion and thus not counterbalanced by a multitude of counselors (or modelers) as it should have been. It reflects an irrationalism shaped by a slavish commitment to the almighty Mammon, for many decades of time, rather than to commitment to the living God. In other words, to think that we could simply shut the world economy down for two months, and pop out on the other side just fine, to think that we can simply digitize trillions upon trillions of dollars and add that to the 22T we already had in-debt, can only come from a psyche that believes humanity has a power of nature that in fact only belongs to God. When that is the mentality, it produces all sorts of quick and wrong and destructive steps; the current global scenario illustrates this in unfortunate spades.
We are not the Masters of the Universe, we are not He-man or Shera; our frames are but dust, we are not God, nor in command of nature. As Hinlicky has rightly alerted us to, we are supposed to be in submission to God, and thus stewards of the creation God has given us dominion over. But it is to be under God, not under a humanity who is submitted to a crass materialism and sense of nature it believes it has at its command. To think that we can simply do what we have done, and not cause a blight never imagined, is unimaginable to me. Our only hope is to repent, and turn to God; there is no way out of this, but God, and reliance upon His wisdom. Not a prosperity version of God, but the God revealed on the old rugged cross of Christ.
When the Barmen Declaration was written, by Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the context was clearly different; but the demonic spirit it was attempting to confront was just the same we are now confronting in this COVID event. The world is captivated and shaped by a bondage to a consumerist materialism that fosters an [im]morality and mind of its own sinister and deleterious making; it always results in imprudence, whether that be malicious or not, and consequences that it has no ultimate control over. This can lead to political policies, laws, and actions that places materials over people; and because of the seditious mind it creates, it can rationalize its actions by thinking that what it is doing is for the ‘greater good’ of humanity—even if that only represents 500M people rather than 7.6B. But materialism, always has a select group of people who believes they are the masters, and the masses are the slaves used to manipulate the material to the master’s wanton desires and aims for the world. Hitler had this aim with a focus of ridding the earth of the non-Aryan masses, and initiating a third Reich (millennium) for the masters of the race and created order who deserved it; for whom the world was destined. We can see this same impulse shaping the “developed world” over against the “developing and third worlds” currently. Even as the developed world has lived off of the slave labor of the developing and third worlded peoples, even within the developed world there is an ultimate übermensch-class of people, some refer to them as the 1%, who literally run the world order according to their desired ends, and what they vision for the plight of humanity; viz. them as its Lords.
So, we have this ongoing current in the world, we might identify its first notable illustration in Nimrod and the pervasive “Babylonian” kingdom that swerves all the way through redemptive-history all the way into the present. The modern world couldn’t deny this spirit as it became embodied in Adolf Hitler and his minions; and once again, currently, even though it now appears as an Angel of Light, this same ‘spirit’ is waging war and destruction on the masses in the name of the ‘greater good.’ For the Christian, as part of our witness, we are not ‘ignorant of the satan’s devices, and thus when we discern them, as they attempt to wreak death and destruction, we are to rise up with the intensity of resurrection, and expose the darkness with the light of Christ. This is what Barth, Bonhoeffer, and the whole German Confessing church did in the Reich’s Germany. Here is the pertinent part of the Declaration for us:
8.10 – 1. “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.” (John 14.6). “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. . . . I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved.” (John 10:1, 9.) 8.11 Jesus Christ, as he is attested for us in Holy Scripture, is the one Word of God which we have to hear and which we have to trust and obey in life and in death. 8.12 We reject the false doctrine, as though the church could and would have to acknowledge as a source of its proclamation, apart from and besides this one Word of God, still other events and powers, figures and truths, as God’s revelation.
If you are a Christian, and you do not see the sinister forces that Hinlicky, myself, and other Christians see at work, then none of my post applies to you. But if you do see these things for what they are, if you are willing to step out of the shadows cast by the Angel of Light, then us Christians are called to bear witness to the very Light of God in Jesus Christ. God’s οργή (wrath) contrary to a rebellious planet in full-tilted nature worship (cf. Rom 1.18ff) will be actively vented, at various levels of intensity, until He finally says enough is enough and puts the last enemy, which is death (and all of its fallout) under the feet of Christ. Christians are to bear witness to this reality, particularly when we know the human heart’s capacity to elevate itself over the God of creation, as see itself as creation’s very telos or purpose. This sort of evil attends what we are currently experiencing in the world; and it is God who says enough is enough: you are not God, I am God, and the cattle on a thousand hills belong to me. If you think that what I am saying is over-wrought, then I don’t really think you are inhabiting Scripture’s reality, nor its cruci-formed logic for all its worth. There are malevolent and dark forces at work in the world, both actively and passively (the latter being those who are unable to recognize the former, thus submitting to them even in the name of Christ). These forces believe that they are Lord, that their way is the Way, and that their forked-word is God’s Word. The Christian’s witness is to resist this malignancy and say No, even while it proclaims the Yes of God for all of humanity. This is the moment I see us inhabiting, and I call you, Christian, to recognize these realities along with me. Pax Vobis
 Paul Hinlicky, Facebook Post, accessed 04-27-2020.
 Barmen Declaration in toto.