Bible,  Culture,  Life,  Theology

Why We Need Each Other Now More Than Ever: Christian Ethics in the Age of Coronavirus

The world’s changed dramatically, perhaps indefinitely. Similarly to how things were different after 9/11 or after the Great Recession of 2008, I suspect that life after the Coronavirus will always be a little different.

I don’t mean that in an end-of-the-world apocalyptic sort of way. I don’t think the world’s ending. And I think — I hope and pray anyway — that most of us will come through this global pandemic.

Tragically, there’s already been and will continue to be loss of life. I grieve for those families. But the scientists and health experts working on this seem to be assuring us that while some people are at significantly greater risk of serious illness, even death, the majority of us are not.

Nevertheless, as Anthony Fauci, the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a key member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said earlier this week, we should all be prepared for things to get worse before they get better. The sober truth is, things might get a lot worst before they get better.

Are we ready?

Am I?

Are you?

Already we’re living in unprecedented times. Entire countries, like Italy, Spain, and others have been on lockdown. National borders have been closed. Businesses have been shut down. People are urged to stay at home except for essential travel to get food or healthcare. And this is happening all over the world.

It’s quite surreal. Almost like a movie (think Contagion or Outbreak), except this is really happening.   

States within the U.S. are now imposing different lockdown measures. (See Wall-Street Journal article here). My own small mid-western city has issued a travel restriction. We’re only supposed to be out and about to go to work or to get groceries, food, medicine, or healthcare.

Thankfully, my wife is still working from home, teaching her college courses online. I’m also still gainfully employed at an auto manufacturer supplier. But I realize that all of that can change. Who knows what might happen? And I also realize that many people are not as fortunate as we have been so far.

Several years ago when I was a pastor I remember either reading or hearing somewhere that we often live with the naive assumption that tomorrow is going to be better than the next day. That stuck with me because I do that. I think I’ve always done that.

But the truth is, for lots of people all over the world, including even some people in the U.S., it’s not. For lots of people, tomorrow is not better than today. It’s the same devastating and exhaustive struggle to survive. Or worse.

Coronavirus and all the coming ramifications of the aftermath of this global pandemic have me thinking about all this and more. And, fair warning, while I ultimately desire to conclude this post on a hopeful note, things may get dark for a bit.

The Best and Worst in Us

National and global tragedies have the potential to bring out the best and worst in us. Hopefully, it’s more of the former.

For example, I was moved this past week by the reports and videos of Italians going out onto their apartment balconies and singing to one another. My heart was warmed by reports of and a video of neighborhoods across Spain opening up their windows and doors and loudly applauding and cheering every day at 8 p.m. for all of the healthcare workers and scientists working tirelessly on the frontlines battling Coronavirus. That last one actually made me cry.

Closer to home, someone from my city and with whom I’m friends with on Facebook was on the local news because she’s organizing an effort for people with sewing abilities in the area to make desperately needed masks for healthcare workers to be properly protected.

Of course, she said, we can’t solve this problem. But we can do what little we can to help and make a difference right here in our little nook of the world.

Another friend of mine, a pastor in our city, has turned his church sanctuary into a food pantry and place that people can come and get supplies, as well as prayer and encouragement. Perhaps he and his ministry team are living out what it truly means to be a sanctuary.

Stories like these demonstrate the best in us as collective citizens of a global society. We help. We encourage. We do what we can to be kind and gracious and generous.

I wish those were the only stories out there.

But we live in a fallen, broken world. And national and global tragedies also have the potential to bring out the worst in us. I’m thinking here especially of the hoarders — those who push and shove their way to ensure that they’ve got theirs and to hell with anyone else.

I’m thinking here also especially of those with cavalier attitudes regarding the seriousness, indeed even the veracity, of this global pandemic. Perhaps, like me, you’re seeing this play out daily on social media.

I’m bewildered and saddened by those who seem far more concerned about their freedoms being violated than the health, safety, and common, collective good of their neighbors.

I’m befuddled by so-called “deep state” conspiracy theories and pervasive mistrust of what organizations like the World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control, and even our own White House Coronavirus Task Force are telling us about this virus and the precautionary measures we all need to take to limit exposure to the most vulnerable among us and help our healthcare systems from being totally overwhelmed and depleted of all available beds and resources.

I’m angry at people — especially those who call themselves Christians — who flippantly say really stupid shit like, “God’s appointed all of us to die at some point. Nothing we can do about it if it’s our time.” (Someone actually said something like this on a thread on my Facebook page).

We human beings are complex creatures to be sure. We have incredible capacities for good. We’re compassionate. We’re courageous. We can create and innovate. And that’s why I’m hopeful that we’ll get through this. That’s why I’m confident that treatments and even a vaccine will be developed and deployed to combat and eventually eradicate Coronavirus.

But in the meantime, there’s also the darker side. We have incredible capacities for indifference. We’re selfish. We’re myopic. We’re nationalistic and xenophobic. In some ways, these may be our natural and default inclinations. But they’re definitely not the best version of ourselves. We can and must do better.

Treating Others the Way We Want to be Treated

For Christians, there’s no shortage of biblical guidance for times like these. There are, of course, many prayers and Scriptures of comfort, assuring us of God’s sovereignty and providence, as well as God’s love and care. These are things we can and should turn to. A favorite of mine is Isaiah 41:10.

But we should also turn to the biblical teaching on how we should act towards and treat one another. Not only do we have the example of Jesus’s self-sacrificial love, but we also have many of his explicit teachings preserved in the Gospels and extrapolated throughout the New Testament. Two important teachings that strike me as relevant are the Golden Rule and the Greatest Commandment.

Treat others the way you want to be treated, Jesus said. Or, if you prefer the more formal language and more exact quote, “In everything do to others what you have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12).

We might do well to ask ourselves, in the face of a global pandemic, how do I want others to treat me?

Would I want someone to help me if needed?

Would I want someone to leave a few supplies for me and my family rather than hoard them all for themselves?

Would I want someone to call or text me just to check in and make sure I’m okay?

Would I want someone to take seriously the recommendations of the experts from the WHO, the CDC, the White House Coronavirus Task Force, and other agencies like our state and local governments to help prevent exposure to me and my loved ones, as well as the most vulnerable among us?

If your honest answer to those questions is no or indifference, then we have nothing to talk about. That makes me sad. And if you call yourself a Christian, then I think you’ve badly missed the way of Jesus on this.

Love Your Neighbor as Yourself

Jesus also summarized all of the law and the prophets by urging his followers to love God and to love others. We call this the Greatest Commandment.

“You shall the love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind,” said Jesus. “This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:36-40).

And just in case there’s confusion regarding who exactly is our neighbor, Luke’s version of this same teaching — the so-called Parable of the Good Samaritan — makes it clear that our neighbor is everyone.

The Apostle Paul echoes Jesus on this. Multiple times in his letters to churches Paul wrote that the entire law can be summarized in the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves (for example, see Romans 13:8-10 and Galatians 5:14).

And just in case we’re tempted to twist this into an interpretation and application that suggests loving our neighbor means taking care of only our own interests, we get this from the Apostle Paul:

Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others.

Philippians 2:3-4

The New Testament couldn’t be more clear. The life, example, and teachings of Jesus couldn’t be more explicit. Christians have a sacred responsibility to love and care for others. Even and perhaps especially when it means putting their needs ahead of our own. Even if it means restricting our personal freedoms in order to care for the collective and common good of humanity, especially the most vulnerable among us.

After all, isn’t that what Jesus did when he died on the cross? He set aside his own rights and privileges in order to bring about redemption and restoration. He suffered so that we could be saved. He calls us to do the same.

Here’s the rest of Paul’s exhortation. And with this I conclude:

Don’t do anything for selfish purposes, but with humility think of others as better than yourselves. Instead of each person watching out for their own good, watch out for what is better for others. Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God,
        he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit.
But he emptied himself
        by taking the form of a slave
        and by becoming like human beings.
When he found himself in the form of a human,
        he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
        even death on a cross.
Therefore, God highly honored him
        and gave him a name above all names,
10     so that at the name of Jesus everyone
        in heaven, on earth, and under the earth might bow
11         and every tongue confess
            that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:3-11

May we strive, by God’s grace, to have the attitude of Jesus in these difficult days. May we be kind, gracious, compassionate, and generous with one another. May we seek and serve Christ in all persons and love our neighbor as ourselves.

Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Amen.

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