More than 50 years ago, an Ambassador College professor made a rather colorful statement that has stuck with me ever since: “People tend to fall into one ditch or another. The only time they are in the middle of the road is when they are on their way to the ditch on the other side.”
If we are honest with ourselves, we see a lot of people in one ideological ditch or another. Of course, we rarely, if ever, see ourselves off the track. We rarely see ourselves as others see us. I have occasionally made the honest observation that while I recognize that I am not the most balanced person in the world, I have yet to find anyone who displays greater balance. I hope you can recognize a little self-directed humor in that observation, because it agrees with Scripture: “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2).
That is how our minds work: If I think it, it must be right. But, again, if we are honest with ourselves, we admit that we have been wrong about many things, even things about which we once felt very strongly. The man who cannot admit this has deceived himself, for, as another proverb says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise” (Proverbs 12:15).
Human nature is the same today as it has always been, but our world is not the same. Today, we face challenges that tempt our human nature to a degree unimaginable to past generations. The Internet and social media offer an all-you-can-eat buffet of conspiracies, political agendas, and misinformation as never before. There have always been conspiracy peddlers and fake-news purveyors, but their ideas were never so readily at our fingertips. Solomon wrote that there is no end of books, but even he had no idea—and, if it were only books, at least it would take people time to read them. Today, you can endlessly read snippets from strangers giving their opinions as if they were documented facts.
Consider some of the more popular conspiracies of the last six decades, most which came along even before the Internet: The Illuminati are controlling the world. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated at the behest of the Mafia, Fidel Castro, the Soviets, the CIA, etc. Man never landed on the moon. The secretive HAARP project is causing earthquakes and a host of other “natural disasters.” Chemtrails are controlling our climate. The September 11 attacks were a plot by the U.S. government, not Arab terrorists. COVID-19 is a grand hoax involving Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, George Soros, and anyone else on your list of disliked persons. Adolf Hitler did not commit suicide, but escaped to Argentina. Marilyn Monroe was killed by the Kennedys, and Elvis Presley is still alive and well in an Alabama trailer park!
With such a list as this, I am sure I have managed to step on almost everyone’s foot! Okay, I admit it: I still have questions about the JFK assassination. And when it comes to COVID-19, I do not claim to have all the answers. But, frankly, brethren, some of you are stuck in one ditch or the other—and you may drown if you don’t get out before the rain comes. We need to be wise and balanced. For instance, there is no serious dispute about whether COVID-19 is real. It is, and it is a killer. But are some numbers exaggerated? Probably. Are there politicians and bad actors who are using this crisis to promote their agendas? No doubt. Will pharmaceutical companies cash in big-time? Absolutely.
But does this mean that every government leader we disagree with is acting only for personal gain and is not at all concerned for the people being governed? Mr. Herbert Armstrong visited scores of government leaders around the world and came to appreciate the struggles each one had in governing their citizens. He personally knew many men and women of national authority, when most of us have never even known one such leader. Mr. Armstrong was hardly naïve regarding the character of politicians and dictators, yet he realized that many do care for the countries and citizens they oversee—and he never got caught up in those nations’ politics. Instead, he kept his eye on the reason God called him—to preach the Gospel and warn the world about where it is heading.
Lessons from the Exodus
As I bring out in this issue’s Editorial, the Exodus contains many lessons for us. Every year, during the Days of Unleavened Bread, most of our ministers will at some point turn to 1 Corinthians 10 to remind us of the sins of the children of Israel—which turned the desert into a graveyard. The list of sins includes idolatry, lusting after evil things, sexual immorality, tempting Christ, and complaining (vv. 6–10). And Scripture reminds us that “all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (v. 11). So, we must be aware of these things, and of the two causes underlying these sinful behaviors.
The book of Hebrews addresses the first underlying cause: “Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Hebrews 3:17–19). Belief and faith in God is a theme of Hebrews. The book’s entire eleventh chapter addresses the subject of faith, and warns us that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (v. 6).
Moses is larger-than-life to us today, but he was not so revered by the children of Israel. Because the Israelites lacked faith, they could not trust that God was with them and was leading them through Moses. He was just another man. How carnal those Israelites were, we may think. How foolish they were, after all those miracles! How could they murmur and complain so much? Again, as I have described in the Editorial of this issue, those were thoughts I once had—but no longer. The Israelites complained because they did not know where their food and water supply would come from. They complained because they were told to go into a land filled with giants. But we never complain, do we?
The second underlying cause sprang from their lack of faith, and from their trust in their own judgment over God’s. That is why God admonished them, at the end of 40 years, “You shall not at all do as we are doing here today—every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes—for as yet you have not come to the rest and the inheritance which the Lord your God is giving you” (Deuteronomy 12:8–9). This character flaw remained with them to greater and lesser degrees all the way down to the time of the judges (Judges 17:6; 21:25).
These two underlying causes brought destruction to Israel over the course of its early history, and we see little difference in human nature today. It is one thing to profess faith in God and His word, but a different matter to exercise faith when God’s word conflicts with our cherished opinions.
Get Out of the Rabbit Hole
Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ is the Head of His Church (Colossians 1:18; Ephesians 1:22–23). And we are informed that “the church of the living God” is “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). Are we that Church or not? Further, God has placed His ministry within the Church to keep us unified and on track “till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (Ephesians 4:13–15).
I am not writing these comments for those who may no longer be with us, but for loyal and faithful members of the Living Church of God. Dear brethren, some of us have lived a bit longer than others. Our Council of Elders is mostly made up of men who have been around for a while, both in this life and in the Church. We have seen many conspiracies come and go. We have seen individuals become distracted, going down a rabbit hole of seemingly consistent and credible carnal ideas that appeal to them—and, sadly, as they keep going, becoming more and more convinced that what they are reading is the truth.
Satan uses the Internet and social media to grease that hole—and it becomes nearly impossible to extricate someone from these powerful deceptions, once they are bought into. No matter how many wise men and women try to help them, deluded people become convinced they are right as they turn themselves into poster children for this proverb: “A man who isolates himself seeks his own desire; he rages against all wise judgment. A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart” (Proverbs 18:1–2).
During this Passover and Days of Unleavened Bread season, let us examine ourselves and see where we stand. Let us stop heeding the Internet, get back to heeding the Bible, and look to where Christ is leading. There is a reason God gave us these Festivals and commands us to come out of Egyptian slavery. Do not follow the example of faithless, self-willed Israel.