A recent article written for The Atlantic, McKay Coppins describes his “surreal” experience of flying during a pandemic. One of the quotes in this article caught my attention. McKay writes:
“The things we miss most about our pre-pandemic lives--dine-in restaurants and recreational travel, karaoke nights and baseball games--require more than government permission to be enjoyed. These activities are predicated not only on close human contact but mutual affection and good-natured patience, on our ability to put up with one another. Governors can lift restrictions and companies can implement public-health protocols. But until we stop reflexively seeing people as viral threats, these old small pleasures we crave are likely to remain elusive.” (emphasis mine)
This resonates. And hurts deeply.
For those of us who have been out in the community lately, shopping and running errands, this feeling is very much a reality. Not for everyone, of course- there are always exceptions- but for the most part, it does not take very long to see that the weeks of lockdown have taken their toll on people in a myriad of ways. One only has to walk the wrong way down the aisle of a grocery store to know that McKay’s observation is quite accurate, and easily applies beyond flying. Anxiety, anger, and a new moral judgement for acceptable behaviour in a pandemic is rampant. Our view of people, as an entire culture, has been changed. And I am concerned that we, brothers and sisters in Christ, have been, or could be, swept up in this thinking as well if we don’t pay attention.
Tim Keller says that “we are more affected by our culture than we think.” This has always bothered me, because I know he’s right. I don’t want to be affected by our culture- especially by the negative things! But if I take a sober look at my life, I can see that it does. It is inevitable, I suppose. If I’m not paying attention, the values of this world subtly make their way in, almost unnoticeable. I begin tolerating things God specifically commands me to reject; I justify and defend desires and passions that God says to put to death; I begin to see my life and the lives of others through a world-centered lens, rather than a Christ-centered one. If we just live our lives passively and take our faith casually, we drift (Hebrews 2:1). We begin to take on the views of the louder voices that come at us incessantly. We don’t even realize that it’s happening until and unless the Lord intervenes and gets our attention.
I am saying these things because I think that we too, who follow Christ, are also in danger of thinking about people as “ viral threats”. We need to be aware of our thinking and perspectives, and if they are changing. God has set us apart, to think and act differently than our present culture. He has called us to be vigilant in guarding our hearts. This means that in this confusing time, we remember that the Lord has compassion on all He has made (Psalms 145:9); that all are created in His image (Genesis 1:27). We are to be merciful, and gracious, patient, kind and gentle, good and loving. We are able to respect, protect, and care for others, while we accept that risk and suffering are also intrinsic to the life of a Christian. The New City Catechism reminds us that our lives are not our own- we were bought at a price. It is keeping these things in mind that keeps our hearts tender, and keeps our reflexive behaviour from becoming fearful and defensive.
Colossians 4:2-6 instructs us well regarding our mindset, specifically verses 5 and 6: “Act wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each person.”
Brothers and sisters, let us glorify God in our conduct by being wise in these disorienting days. He does not call us to be foolish or haphazard with our lives (nor do I), but He does call us to lay them down for his sake. Are we not reminded of this as we reflect on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day? Are we not shown that Jesus is worthy of risk in the lives of missionaries and countless heroes of our faith that have gone before us?
It is really difficult to write about these things, to even begin to know how to rightly process all that has come our way in recent months. This pandemic has affected us in every area of our lives. Each day brings its own set of challenges emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, economically and physically. We are, each one of us, handling these things in different ways, as some of us find ourselves in a high risk category therefore needing to be more cautious, whereas some are not, and can be more liberal in our involvement in the community. As if these things were not enough, this virus has become a political tool and has the potential to cause further division, even within the church. How much more do we need to hold fast now to what unites us?
Eventually, in God’s perfect timing, this season will come to an end. Now, in the turmoil, is an opportune time to show others the love of Christ by living out the life of Christ. Let Him expose our idols of safety and physical health and help us to put them in their proper place. Let us keep our focus on Him and be lovers, seeing others through the lens of Scripture, and by this remind the individuals we come into contact with that they are human beings with great value, and not viral threats.
May we pray together that God, in His great mercy and grace, soon restore our sweet times together with one another, loved ones, friends and neighbours.
With love and anticipation,