So this is how it ends. Cancellations, social distancing, and the Great Toilet Paper Shortage. Dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.
With no Madness to distract us from the madness, with mass media fanning the flames of freak-out and social media throwing gasoline on them, what’s a Christian to do? Shall we hunker in those bunkers once built beneath basements for weathering nuclear winter, or scamper to their more recent manifestation, the panic room? Or worse, shall we proceed as if the gospel of Jesus Christ hasn’t prepared us for just such a time as this?
The sanctity of life remains more relevant than ever in these moments. Here’s how we can continue to proclaim it and put it into practice with courage and compassion while facing a deadly pestilence.
1. Please let’s not cancel church services. Many early Christians assembled to rejoice in the greater graces of God under threat of arrest or death. Persecuted brothers and sisters in other parts of the world still do.
Of course, we sometimes suspend services due to inclement weather, but in those circumstances, we face far graver and more immediate danger. The risks the current sickness brings, even to particularly susceptible populations, only moderately exceed the everyday contagions to which we commonly expose each other.
Perhaps individuals feeling ill should excuse themselves, but even for them we ought not obligate absence from those divine promises and blessings without which humankind cannot live by bread alone. We can take other measures (washing hands, keeping physical distance, sanitizing surfaces). Maybe holding more services, rather than fewer, would reduce the attendance at each one and mitigate the germ’s spread.
Thankfully, Martin Luther’s suddenly chic treatise about plague also encourages involvement in corporate worship (as do guidelines from my church body, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod). God delivers His gospel gifts as exactly the antidote for the anxieties we are presently experiencing. They inspire the very care and service for our neighbor that such situations require.
2. Let’s not blame public officials or overseas populations. When the vector of the terror is person-to-person contact, we become suspicious of each other. Distances and differences can further impede goodwill.
When whole nations and regions get infected, and in a world that makes a god of government, we expect civic authorities and agencies to arrange salvation. Practice patience rather than complaining and commending instead of condemning. We’re going to need one another to overcome both this peril and its opportunistic secondary infection: the rupture of relationships.
3. Let’s celebrate community. What an unprecedented opportunity we have in extended school closings, travel restrictions, and working from home (or furloughs). This collective predicament has the potential to unite families, communities, and countries in ways that our atomic-paced and achievement-driven culture doesn’t usually permit.
Lean in to the household. Play board games. Read stories aloud. Reach out to aging relatives. Catch up with old friends. Check in on isolated neighbors. Engage in an extended casual conversation with your husband or wife. How can we serve those whom the quarantining affects most adversely?
4. Reconsider the role of our bodies. The increased attention to disease transmission wonderfully confronts us some wonderful realities. Sexuality doesn’t encompass one’s entire identity. We cannot reduce a person’s value to how attractive or productive we find her.
Comfort, luxury, and indulgence do not trump everything else. There’s no such thing as a personal choice or a private decision. We affect others even unintentionally wherever we go and whatever we do, for worse and for better. These bodies are gifts, not rights or burdens.
5. Let’s not abandon the elderly. We can allocate health-care resources, even in crisis, according to urgency of needs and not duration of years. Quality-of-life is in the eye of the beholder, and such subjective assessments hardly make safe or fair means for managing matters when survival’s at stake.
This plague already disproportionately endangers the aged. Sacrificing them to the beast will embolden, not appease it.
6. Let’s not abort the unborn. Some will use this virus as the latest excuse to experiment with embryos for developing another vaccine or a stem-cell therapy. One knucklehead abortionist already advocated removing restrictions on RU-486 because the increased time at home will result in more surprise pregnancies.
Unless we amount to nothing more than hedonist animals (in which case we’ve much more than microbes to worry about), children represent our future and the reason we work, earn, and journey in the first place. Do we have to let emergency reduce our race to spare parts? Widespread dread provides the least rational and most hazardous justification for medically cannibalizing our young.
7. Resist the temptation to fill the extra time with screens. Infotainment (“news”), binge-watching movies and series, and scrolling social media may poison us more than this bodily malady.
No media delivers just the facts, or distractions. They sell products and philosophies, and scares and stories sell even more than sex. Seek truth rather than news, which often consists mostly of rumors and exaggerations. Rather than resorting to technology and toys, dive headlong into what your mind and heart really crave: human contact.
8. Behold how helplessly defenseless and dependent we are. But for the grace of God, we cannot preserve ourselves against the tiniest menaces.
Humankind’s selfishness long ago upset the harmony our Almighty Maker baked into the universe, and we have not strayed from competing ever since. Microscopic organisms are following our lead and assault us rather than synergizing (“cursed is the ground because of you, multiplying your pain in childbearing”).
On our own, fertilization to final breath leaves us little and feeble like an embryo, impaired and compromised like a hospital patient. Since our heart beats, lungs breathe, and eyes keep blinking, how gently and relentlessly does the Heavenly Father sustain us!
9. Take comfort and take courage, because no one suffers alone. Our Lord Jesus Christ has borne our sicknesses and carried our sorrows. He knows weeping and bleeding.
The Son of God humbled Himself unto slavery like us and submitted to death that He might tread the sod of its shadowy valley beside us. His crucified forgiveness has emptied suffering of any payback or punishment to fill it with redemptive purposes. Now in His hand even our pain accomplishes outcomes that far surpass its costs.
10. Remember the hope of a new creation. Whatever this world deprives will be restored and transcended by the resurrection of the body to everlasting life in the heavenly kingdom. Pray not just to be spared from sickness but to be saved from sin.
Pray not only for ourselves but for our every neighbor. Pray, watch, and await with eager anticipation the day when God shall wipe away every tear from our eyes and there will be no more disease and no more death.
Let’s demonstrate the best of humanity and make the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 the most life-affirming, gospel-motivated event of our age.