I usually try to refrain from shaking my head, and saying in an exasperated tone, "these people," when I'm frustrated by others (although my husband is the best source on how successful I am in this!).
While I should perhaps check my frustration, God can say it like it is. And this is what he says to Isaiah in chapter 8:
Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread...
These verses have been on my mind for many years now, quite a bit before conspiracy theories seemed to arise everywhere in the United States.
Apparently, though, the translation in Isaiah 8:12 is a bit tricky. It can refer to a conspiracy or a coalition. Either way, in the context of Isaiah's prophecy, the people of Judah are afraid of the military consolidation of two enemy countries (see my last blog post, "Fear"). Led by King Ahaz, they pursue rather violent means out of their own fear of destruction.
This is in direct violation of what God has told them to do. In this chapter alone, we're told,
This people has rejected the gently flowing waters of Shiloah
The Lord Almighty...is the one you are to fear...
I will wait for the Lord...I will put my trust in him.
Should not a people inquire of their God?
God tells them to seek the gently flowing waters, to not fear people (if they are to fear anything, consider fearing Him! In scriptural accounts, any human encounter with even an angelical being, let alone God, has people falling to their faces), to wait on God's timing even when things look dire, and to seek God's counsel rather than nefarious means.
These are not easy things to do when one is under siege, but they are God's instructions. The ends do not justify the means.
John Calvin's commentary on this passage in Isaiah says,
"The Lord certainly does not forbid the godly to fear, for they cannot avoid that; but he bids them overcome that excessive terror by which the ungodly are swallowed up. Let us not, therefore, by their example, gaze around in every direction, and rush headlong to seek unlawful aid; and especially we must beware lest fear take away our judgment. There is but one remedy for this evil, to restrain ourselves by the word of God, from which proceeds real tranquillity of mind. Comparing the condition of that people with our own, let us learn to betake ourselves to the name of God, which will be to us an impregnable fortress."
It's OK to be afraid; this is simply being human. But fear unchecked can lead one into sin. Literature and film depict this vividly for us on multiple occasions. For example, Anakin Skywaker becomes Darth Vader due to his fear over what may happen to Padme and his seeking power to protect her.
Instead, God tells Isaiah to not "follow the way of this people."
This is pretty hard to do, oftentimes. In my research and study of adolescent development, I've concluded that teenagers are by no means the only ones susceptible to peer pressure. Myriad studies show how "good" adults can be pushed into doing shockingly terrible things through manipulating the situation and people around them.
We can even become afraid because those around us are afraid. We demonize other groups and blaspheme against God, distrusting that God is good and has things under control. We take up arms instead of waiting for Him.
What really saddens me right now is the impression that many are afraid of having the "wool pulled over their eyes." They're so afraid of being lied to and misled, that they seek secret sources of information and start boasting that only they have the true knowledge now. It all stems from a fear of being "taken in."
In "The Last Battle," the final book in C.S. Lewis' The Chronicles of Narnia, the king and his human helpers free a group of dwarves from the enemy. The dwarves, however, are cynical and disillusioned. They refuse to believe the actual reality that they are in, insisting that they were still trapped in a dark stable despite being free:
“Starting a new lie! Trying to make us believe we’re none of us shut up, and it ain’t dark, and heaven knows what.... "They won’t take us in again.”
Aslan, the character who represents Christ in the books, says,
"They will not let us help them...They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own mind, yet they are in that prison, and so afraid of being taken in that they cannot be taken out.”
I hope that those who are so afraid of being "taken in" will see that it's OK to not know all mysteries and have all knowledge. Childlike dependence on God is the stance Christians are called to. We're not the masters of the universe...
Back to conspiracies...Scientific American had a 2010 article on how to detect conspiracy theories...way, way before this was on my radar. The article (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-conspiracy-theory-director/) states that the more a theory shows these qualities, the more likely that it is not grounded in reality. Here's a snapshot:
"Proof" comes from "connecting the dots" rather than actual evidence.
The players involved would need to be near-superheroes to pull something like it off.
Important, sinister meanings are attached to insignificant events.
Facts and speculation co-mingle throughout.
Any alternate explanations are dismissed.
In response to a country seeking coalitions and conspiracies, Isaiah concludes that he will wait for and trust in the Lord. He accepts the burden that he and his children* have due to being set apart, with another "Here am I":
Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.
Reminds me of another famous, "Here am I"(more or less), at Martin Luther's heresy trial at the Diet of Worms:
"My conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me.”
*Prophet's kids have a harder time of it than pastor's kids, apparently, and bear the bizarre names that accompany being signs and symbols. Case in point, chapter 8's Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz, a name which my NIV text note helpfully translates as, "quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil."