King Ahaz of Judah was faced with a dilemma: join an alliance with Israel and Syria to face the menace of the Assyrian Empire, or submit to the Assyrians and incur the wrath of Syria and Israel. As 2 Kings 16:5-9 explains, he chose the latter, prompting an invasion by Syria and Israel. These were perilous times.
Political intrigue, tenuous alliances, war. These factors provided the perfect backdrop for conspiracy theories. And this is precisely why the Lord told the prophet Isaiah:
Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the Lord of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.Isaiah 8:12-15
As this account demonstrates, conspiracy theories are not a new phenomenon. They are as old as Scripture. The only novel aspect of such theories is the ease with which they can be spread today. In previous generations, conspiracies about the Masons, or the JFK assassination, or UFOs, could only be spread in books or magazines or conventions. Now, thanks to the internet and social media, they can be spread instantly and disseminated broadly.
But while the media have changed, the basis of conspiracy theories remains the same – fear. “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread.” They arise when painful and shocking events happen that create a sense of the loss of control, which in turn creates fear. Whether it was the Assyrian crisis in the eighth century BC, or the 9/11 attack in the 21st century AD, conspiracy theories provide a sense of comfort by assuaging the fear that such terrible things can happen outside of our power to manage. “We can’t possibly be so sinful as to incur God’s wrath – it must be an international conspiracy!” “A handful of terrorists couldn’t cause the scope of damage that occurred on 9/11 – it must have been an inside government job!”
And in a day when technology and innovation seem limitless, it is only natural to be deceived by the illusion of our power to control what happens. A simple virus can spread so virulently and kill so many? Impossible! My favorite candidate lost an election? That couldn’t have happened! It must be a conspiracy!
The Bible presents no such illusion.
Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to those with knowledge, but time and chance happen to them all. For man does not know his time. Like fish that are taken in an evil net, and like birds that are caught in a snare, so the children of man are snared at an evil time, when it suddenly falls upon them.Ecclesiastes 9:11-12
The real world is filled with uncertainty. Our ability to control what happens is a mirage. Where we think we see an oasis of predictability, there is instead the desert of time and chance. Children get cancer; innocent people are randomly murdered; an evil time falls suddenly.
No one wants reality to be like this. The wise man who wrote Ecclesiastes certainly didn’t. But much of what happens in this world is totally out of our control, regardless of our personal feelings. If I don’t accept this hard truth, I may end up substituting my personal wishes for reality, my “hope so” for hard proof.
In other words, a conspiracy theory.
And because such theories are not grounded in evidence, when they are examined in a court of law on the basis of evidence offered under oath, they collapse. Alex Jones touted the theory that the Sandy Hook school shooting was a “false flag” operation on his show and never had to face cross-examination, but when he was taken to court, he had to admit that he is a “performance artist” and concede that children did in fact tragically die. Of course, by the time this charlatan admitted he was merely performing, the number of people who heard and believed and propagated his macabre “performance” piece had multiplied exponentially.
I am not suggesting that conspiracies never occur. Indeed, I think a healthy dose of skepticism toward all politicians and political parties is vital to preserving our identity as citizens of heaven first and foremost (Philippians 3:20). But an obsession with conspiracies reflects fear rather than faith, and it can lead Christians to fixate on purveyors of conspiracies rather than the word of God. This is why Isaiah went on to warn the people:
Bind up the testimony; seal the teaching among my disciples. I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him. Behold, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead on behalf of the living? To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn.Isaiah 8:16-20
In Isaiah’s day, the conspiracies were spread by mediums and necromancers. In our day, they are disseminated through blogs, YouTube, and social media. But regardless of the century or the mechanism, those who churn out fanciful theories do nothing more than “chirp and mutter,” and the proper response for God’s people is to turn away from them and “to the teaching and to the testimony!”
Otherwise, it is easy to become addicted to the chirp and mutter. Because conspiracy theories are rooted in emotion rather than reality, once someone falls down the rabbit hole, it is very hard to climb out. Early in the pandemic last year I happened to see the social media account of someone (who I do not know) touting the theory that the lockdown was actually a cover for the President to clear the streets to begin a massive manhunt of a Hollywood cabal of celebrities who kidnap children to use their blood to extract material to make them younger (I’m not kidding). This person repeatedly posted that this operation was about to happen. And when it did not, rather than admit that he was wildly off base, he immediately pivoted to another conspiracy theory. Since there is no mooring in reality, one wish is as good as another.
This is why conspiracy theories are such an obsession. Evidence never gets in the way, so there is no intellectual speedbump to slow them down. Those obsessed with conspiracies either spiral into deeper levels of irrationality or else they tragically crash. It has been heartbreaking to read reports of the “QAnon” community response to the inauguration of President Biden. This community spent years convincing itself that this could never happen. Now that it has, some of its members are devastated to realize they fell for a lie. Others…well, you’ll never believe this, but electing Biden was all part of the master plan!
In the case of King Ahaz, the conspiracies floating around the ancient world led him to forge an alliance with a pagan king who would someday invade his own country. Similarly, Christians who become obsessed with conspiracies may find themselves feeling as though they have more in common with those who share their conspiracies rather than those who share in Christ – and lose their faith in the process. And as the riot in the capitol building demonstrated, many of those who are enmeshed in the world of such theories are anti-Christian in their thoughts and actions.
There’s another consequence of an obsession with conspiracies. If you are prone to share fanciful theories that are routinely proven false, what impact do you think this has on your influence for Christ? Credibility with non-believers is a precious commodity. How tragic it is to waste that credibility on bizarre conspiracy theories that undermine the truths you may share from the word of God. The “boy who cried wolf” is a story of lost credibility. The stakes are even higher when it comes to the “roaring lion,” and they call for us to be “sober-minded” (1 Peter 5:7).
Besides, there is plenty of evil on full display in broad daylight to occupy our attention and energy. We don’t need outlandish conspiracy theories to know we are in a serious spiritual conflict. The first century Roman world was filled with court intrigue, plots, even assassinations. And that was just among the imperial family! Christians also faced scrutiny and scorn from their unbelieving neighbors. That’s precisely why Paul exhorted Christians to walk wisely and use their time redemptively. “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:15-16). The reality right before our eyes is more than sufficient to summon all the conviction, wisdom, and love we can bring to bear upon it. God calls us to take part in a conflict that is indeed much bigger than we can see, a struggle “against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). But engage this unseen enemy not with a fixation on speculative rumors, but with the “whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11).