Judge not, Madam Premier, and you shall not be judged!

I have no issue with the Premier (or any representative of the state) singling out those of us who break the law, but the civil law and the moral law are not the same thing. One is secular and one is spiritual, and they need to be kept as separate as church and state.

“On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.” (Acts 12:21-23)

These little-known verses from the book of Acts recount the rather ignominious demise of Herod Agrippa I. This Herod was the grandson of Herod the Great (so called) who is best remembered for his slaughter of the infant children when Jesus was born (Matthew 2), and nephew of Herod Antipas, who murdered John the Baptist (Luke 9). Evidently, they were all chips off the same rancid block.

Herod was ‘eaten by worms and died’, Luke says, and not the other way around. From a medical point of view, we might assume Herod had acquired some sort of intestinal tape worm, but the point here is not scientific but spiritual. Herod died because he was judged by God, and judged because he committed the most fundamental of all human sins – idolatry. He put himself in the place of God.

Today we live in a proudly secular society where we maintain a strict separation between church and state. I support this separation completely, as history has taught us very clearly that once the church is given executive power, it becomes as corrupt as every other human institution.

Constantine was the beginning of the end, in my view. I suspect that his famous vision where he saw an image of the cross and heard the words “by this conquer” came either from his own imagination or straight from the devil. He took the sacred symbol of the suffering Christ and aligned it with warfare, violence, rape and murder! And when Constantine did conquer all his enemies, the cross became associated with something else – namely, extreme executive power! Political power is not something the church has ever handled well.

Of course, the separation of church and state has two sides to it, and just as I would hate to see the church assume political power, my greater concern today is with the state trying to assume spiritual power! Every time I hear the Premier of New South Wales refer to people doing ‘the wrong thing’ it makes me shudder.

When people knowingly do the wrong thing and pretend they didn’t know, that’s not acceptable. … The vast majority of people are doing the right thing but when a handful don’t it is a setback for all of us.

I have no issue with the Premier (or any representative of the state) singling out those of us who break the law, but the civil law and the moral law are not the same thing. One is secular and one is spiritual, and they need to be kept as separate as church and state.

In truth, neither the premier nor the police force, nor any secular judge, has any right to pass moral judgement on us, and most especially when those breaking the law are doing so for reasons of conscience, and yet the premier goes further. She not only passes moral judgement, but presumes to judge what is in the hearts of these law-breakers:

“It’s really people knowingly having disregard, unfortunately, for their loved ones and also the rest of us in breaching the health orders.”

To presume to pass judgement on people like this is really to put yourself in the place of God! I hope the Premier is eating plenty of coconut. It’s apparently very effective in expelling intestinal worms.

From a Biblical point of view, this question of moral authority goes right back to the beginning. It’s the original issue that is the undoing of Adam and Eve! They eat of the ‘tree of the knowledge of good and evil’, thinking that it will make them like God!

“But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”” (Genesis 3:4-5)

Adam and Eve eat of the tree because they think it will give them knowledge, and with knowledge comes power! By attempting to grasp the true knowledge of good and evil, our forefather and foremother are depicted as trying to usurp God’s authority.

Only the Almighty truly understands good and evil. God alone can judge. God alone understands the complexity of the moral universe, and the complexity of the human heart, and so can judge with love, equity, and compassion.

Adam and Eve eat of the fruit and so gain initiation into a far more complex world, but the serpent lied to them. It is not a world they will ever fully understand and so they will never be able to take on the role of moral judge. They will have to learn their proper place in the created order and learn it the hard way.

In truth, the only person I have seen show more presumption than the NSW premier is the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern. She went even further than claiming the right to judge her people’s morality and motivations. She proclaimed herself as the single source of truth!

“You can trust us as a source of that information,” she declared. “You can also trust the Director-General of Health and the Ministry of Health. … otherwise dismiss anything else.” “We will continue to be your single source of truth,”

I’m glad that Ms Arden didn’t fall from her podium at that point, clutching her abdomen. Even so, I can’t imagine King Herod sounding any more presumptuous!

Forgive me for singling out these two women here. The irony is that these two were the politicians I had most admired prior to this latest trial.

I was so impressed with how the New Zealand’s Prime Minister handled the terrorist shooting at the Christchurch Mosque in 2019. Along with many others, I thought of her as a model of compassionate leadership.

Similarly, with Ms Berejiklian, I was deeply impressed with her relative restraint and calm over the early lockdowns, particularly in comparison with the Premier of Victoria. I thought of her as the gold standard of Australian leadership. What happened? Did the adulation go to their heads?

The bottom line is that these politicians – our Premiers and Prime Ministers – are not God. They can make up laws and they can arrest and punish us as law-breakers, but they cannot assess our moral characters, they cannot ascertain what motivates us, and they cannot pass judgement on us as human beings. To presume that they can is to risk an unhealthy encounter with the worms!

We must keep a separation between church and state because we must maintain the distinction between law and morality. If we lose that distinction then we lose any basis for criticising the actions of government. If the law-makers can decree what is right and wrong, then no law, no matter how insidious, can be questioned.

Many Germans fell under this sort of delusion a century ago – giving the Nazis the right to decree what was right and what was wrong. The Nuremburg trials ruled that the German people had no excuse – that they should have known better. “I was just following orders” was not adequate, as everyone knows deep down that was is ordered and what is right are often two very different things.

I believe we are in a similar situation to that of the German people in the early 1930’s. I’m not suggesting that we have any dictator like Adolf Hitler waiting in the wings, but the issues we are confronting are identical. Are we willing to take a moral stand against laws that are clearly unethical?

For the last eighteen months we have been dealing with laws that stop us meeting for worship, prevent us from being with those we love when they are in need, and can even forbid us from embracing our children. We have seen the cost of these laws on mental health, on domestic violence, on job loss, business collapse, street violence, depression and suicide. At some point we need to say, “enough is enough”, and I fear that if we don’t say it soon, there will be no path back to Eden-like existence we once took for granted.

As for our politicians, I don’t believe they are willfully trying to usurp the Almighty. Indeed, I suspect that the real intentions of the Premier of New South Wales are made transparently clear every time she expresses public condolences for those who have been killed by the virus.

The Premier reads us a list every day – details of individuals who have died of (or with) COVID in the last twenty-four hours. At time of writing, it’s generally around three or four people each day, and we hear the Premier express her grief over these deaths and extend her condolences to the families.

I have a problem with this. I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong for our leaders to grieve those who die, but why single out those who were COVID positive? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, around 55, 000 people die each year in New South Wales. That’s more than a thousand per week or around 150 per day. If the Premier is genuinely upset over the deaths of the three who died who were COVID positive, what about the 147 who died the same day without any trace of COVID? Aren’t their deaths tragic? Why don’t we grieve them and extend condolences to their families?

The real problem we have with our Premier is not that she cares too much for those dying with COVID or too little for anybody else. The problem is that she, and all her political colleagues, are only focused on one thing – minimising COVID deaths. They aren’t deliberately trivialising all forms of death and destruction that are not directly COVID-related, but all this collateral damage is not their problem. COVID is their problem, and they will take every option that is available to them, including taking on God-like powers if they can, to make their problem go away.

This is the real question then – how did the political establishment become so myopically fixated on only one aspect of this worldwide tragedy? Is the media to blame? Was this tunnel vision driven by the pharmaceutical companies? Is there really some secret cabal of sinister men behind it all? In the end, it doesn’t matter. It is still a total failure in leadership on the part of Australia’s political elite.

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged”, warns Jesus (Matthew 7:1), for indeed, these things have a way of coming back on us. For the moment, non-COVID deaths are not the problem of our political leaders, but as the toll of devastation from the lockdowns rises, it will become their problem and they will be held to account. That is, unless the worms get them first!

About Father Dave

Preacher, Pugilist, Activist, Father of four
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