I had intended to offer you the final installment of Dr Matt Bloom’s work on flourishing in communities that care for each other, but I believe Dr Bloom will have to wait. At the risk of adding one more communication to the pile we’re all buried in, I want to talk about our current situation as we face the spread of the Coronavirus.
It may not come as a surprise, but the Bible has nothing to say about viruses or pandemics. It doesn’t give any specific advice about how we should deal with this current situation—there’s no chapter or verse that says we should self-isolate, or that we should wash our hands for twenty seconds with soap and warm water. There’s no passage about the exponential spread of pathogens or the scarcity of test kits or the danger of overburdened medical systems. Believe me, I’ve wanted there to be one, so that we as a uniquely Christian community could be faithful in our response. It seems that if we want to know how we as Christians should react to this situation, we’re called to dig a little deeper.
Obviously, this situation is causing some anxiety. Regardless of our level of concern over the virus itself, the disruption of everyday life produces its own stress. Long lines in the grocery store, additional traffic, the constant bombardment of announcements and alerts from pundits and experts alike. It’s safe to say that we’re all a little keyed up. And while the Bible may not talk about viruses, it does talk about anxiety. In Matthew 6:27, Jesus reminds us that worry does little to change the situations we face: “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” He continues by reminding us that God knows our needs, and since He provides for all His creation, He will undoubtedly provide for us. Trusting God is tough in uncertainty, but that’s precisely the place where trust is most necessary. When we don’t have all the answers, and when the situation changes so rapidly, we need to hold to the solid rock of our salvation.
Perhaps of greater concern is how we treat each other in the crisis. Each of us has an individual perspective regarding this situation. Each of us has slightly different priorities. For some of us, the disruption of our patterns is our primary focus. And the disruption is significant, and we shouldn’t minimize it. Parents dealing with school closures, employees dealing with lost hours and wages, small business owners dealing with flatlining sales. Health officials are clear—isolating ourselves is the best way to slow the advance of this disease. But that isolation has a cascading effect on everything we do that creates community and a vital life. For others, the health implications are paramount. For those with a loved one in the high-risk group--who are genuinely and justifiably concerned for their safety--the fact that many of us are still trying to live life as normal, with all the normal interactions, is appalling to them. A desire for normalcy may contribute to the spread of a potentially fatal sickness, and to the suffering of someone who is loved deeply—by someone.
Jesus, in John 13:34, shares this word: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This is perhaps the best guidance we can have to deal with a situation so disruptive and potentially divisive. Rather than expressing our frustration with each other that our perspectives and priorities are not being honored, we need to remember this mandate to love each other. If we allow our anxiety to drive our interactions with each other, we are in danger of pressing an agenda that helps alleviate our own concerns while increasing the fears and stresses of the other person. Some of us feel the only reasonable option is to shut everything down and go into full quarantine, and there are some reasonable arguments in favor of that response. Others are convinced that continuing life as close to normal is really important—that we give up something significant when we give in to the crisis. The point Jesus makes here isn’t that one perspective is more “right” than the other, but that our love for each other should drive our decisions.
When Paul encourages the church to “…look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others,” in Philippians 2:4, he recognizes the potential for destructive division when our own convictions take precedence over what is good for others in the body. Using Jesus’ own example of self-giving love, Paul calls us as the church to consider each other’s perspective when we respond to situations we face together. Our frustration with the overwhelming flood of conversation revolving around this outbreak should not create a callousness to the concerns of our sisters and brothers. Our fear and uncertainty about the safety of our loved ones should not lead us to demand from others what they cannot give. While we may not find ourselves changing our positions or perspectives, we can at least have compassion and empathy for our sisters and brothers who have different priorities. And in loving each other, we may find we are closer to a unified response than we think we are.
Because this situation is uncharted territory, we may each need to find a way through it that is appropriate to our individual situation. Some of us may need to make the hard choice—to give up what we want for the good of others. We may need to set aside our ingrained patterns of behavior for a while. For those who cannot think of breaking off fellowship, we may need to stay home for a while, for our safety and the peace of mind of our loved ones. For those that are convinced the societal response is overblown, we may need to temper that conviction so that those who are less sure can have a sense of security. Above all, we need to love each other, and it may take a little work to figure out what is loving in such a tumultuous situation. But when the world sees the members of the church supporting each other—even when they disagree on priorities—rather than giving in to the dissension and division, then the world gets a glimpse of the blessed community. Be patient and kind. Choose actions that are not only for your own good, but are good for those you are called to love. Remember, Jesus is more clearly seen in us during crisis than during calm—if Jesus really is the pattern of our lives.
Talk to you soon! John