“Approving of Evil”Categories: Iron sharpens iron
Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, so that no one can buy or sell unless he has the mark, that is, the name of the beast or the number of its name. (Revelation 13.16-17)
There have been many attempts to interpret this passage, usually linking the mark to a specific phenomenon of today—whenever “today” happens to be. These are almost always misguided, but not because current events fail to fulfill the prophecies. Rather, focusing on one particular fulfillment often keeps us from recognizing that there have been countless other fulfillments. One instance, pertaining to the Roman Empire and its persecution of the early church, was uniquely important to the original audience. But human nature has not changed, nor has the relationship of the church to the world.
As we consider the passage above, and especially the beast’s technique of economically ostracizing those who won’t worship him, it’s tough not to see some reflections of this in the events of the past couple years. Many felt ostracized over their choice whether to wear a mask, or get a vaccine, and on the social level it went both ways, depending on the prevailing opinion of the locale. When governments got involved, all over the world people faced a dilemma: fall in line and obey intrusive rules, or be cut off from most of the economy. Neither the mask nor the vaccine was the mark of the beast, but the way it was imposed, especially on people who opposed it on moral grounds, has a lot in common with what we read in Revelation 13. Those who object to the current thing due to conscience face an uphill climb, trying to determine how to respond in a way that reflects the image of Christ.
Today, there’s a concerted effort made by government, media, and corporate actors to undermine the morals passed down to us and informed by the Bible. These include heterosexual monogamy, law and order, the value of hard work and knowledge, and retributive justice—that is, penalties imposed on those who harm others and disrupt the order. The latest has been the effort to indoctrinate children into sexual disorder, and browbeat adults into going along. When a tech company introduces a new emoji in the form of a pregnant man; when a cookie company airs commercials that don’t advertise its product but instead celebrate sexual perversion; when a mainstream TV channel begins a new series celebrating young boys whose parents encourage them to dress up like girls and dance in sexually provocative fashion before cheering adults; when a children’s media behemoth speaks out in favor of teaching sexual perversion in public schools; when a government names a man the highest-ranking woman in history; and when media outlets cry crocodile tears over the evils of “doxxing”—publishing private information about private citizens to target them for retribution—and then openly doxxes its enemies…well, it’s difficult to miss that there’s a major push to cudgel the public into line, and bar them from society until they accept something like the mark of the beast.
Though they know God's righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1.32)
All of this raises questions for the Christian, who must not only refrain from participating in such sinful behavior, but also from giving approval to those who do. But when it’s all around, and often coming from businesses, every financial transaction could be seen as a vote in favor of this garbage; how can we remain pure? It’s not the case that God disapproves of all transactions undertaken with those who reject his commandments—we’re not supposed to leave the world (1Co 5.9-10). And yet, we’re not supposed to participate in the world’s sins; could doing business with someone constitute support?
There are no specific instructions in the New Testament about this, but Paul told the Christians at Corinth how to deal with a similar problem. After instructing them to bear with each other’s conscience and avoid causing offense, he gave a clear and practical application of the principle:
If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience—I do not mean your conscience, but his. (1 Corinthians 10.27-29)
The Christian must shun sin, but participation in a sinful society is acceptable, because all societies are sinful. Yet an unbeliever may point out the sin to you, as if to deliberately make you choose between approving the sin, and being shunned from society. God doesn’t care about the meat—or the cookie, or the entertainment platform—but he does care that his people be seen as holy. The pattern today is the same: don’t worry about whether an individual or company is engaged in sin before doing business with them. None of us lives up to that standard. But this changes, when they start deliberately telling you about it. Openly flaunting their sin is often a tactic people use to dare you to speak up—to tempt you into compromising your principles. Other times it’s because a company has caved to threats from activists who want the same thing—for you to compromise your principles. Don’t give in. It’s not just about your conscience, but his. Love is not going along to get along. Love is not giving implicit approval to destructive sin. Love “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1Co 13.6).