An excellent Facebook post worth reading!
This is a bit lengthy. Since every expert in the world is weighing in on the events, so will I. Remember, this is the view of a historian, and is intended as that. Hat tip to Christopher Witmer for getting me started on this.
As a historian I tend to see the present through the past. Nothing is ever the same as it was in the past, but there are often patterns, responses, and events that have a similar shape to those of history. As a follower of Jesus Christ, my world view as a historian is also shaped to think about my, and our, responses in the present. In fact, one could argue that there is “nothing new under the sun,” and that history gives answers on how to respond today. This is especially true of world-shaping events such as the Covid-19 crisis we are facing today.
The Scriptures give much credence to remembering the past. In the final words of Moses to the Israelites he repeatedly urges them to remember. Here is one such urging:
"Remember the days of old;
consider the years of many generations;
ask your father, and he will show you,
your elders, and they will tell you."(Deut. 32:7)
The point in remembering is not for nostalgia; to remember the “good old days,” which in fact were not often that good! Rather, it is to consider how people lived, the mistakes they made, and more importantly how God moved in the events. To consider in order to repent and not give in to fear. To consider and remember that our God is alive.
So what can we learn from the current crisis facing our world. First of all, it is not unprecedented! I think I used that word myself at the beginning. There have been other infectious diseases that have drastically shaped the world. The repeated use of that word reflects how selfish many of us are. While this crisis is world-altering, and it is not likely we will ever return to the “normal” we had. But remember that normal is only our perceptions of how the world has worked for us. Will this impact the economy? Yes, it certainly will. Will we ever be the same? Not likely. And we shouldn’t either. Each such world-altering event is unique and will change the world.
We live in a much more interconnected global world than any previous generation or people ever have. This has created the scenario where information, goods, people, and diseases can travel very quickly. It does us no good to decry this fact. It is the present reality. However, this is not all bad. The same tools that were used to bring us news about this disease, and the virus itself, to our world, are also the tools used we are called to use to take the Gospel to the world.
I hear several major themes emitting from the scratchy voices of social media in our world today. While I recognize much good in articulating these themes, we must be careful or these themes will become the strident shouts that break the Christian world apart. I also realize that I run much risk by writing and disseminating this, since I too can be viewed as shouting. I am also quite aware that I am not a prophet, or the son of a prophet. I am a historian. What I am calling for is some historical integrity in viewing these events.
First, I hear people decrying the fact that the Government, state or federal has the right to shut down our economy, world and control our lives by forcing us to stay at home. While some of their decrees may seem draconian, they certainly are not against Scripture, nor have they asked us to not have church services. All they have asked from us is to not meet in large groups. We have always argued that the church is not the building, and that is correct. It is the people. People who choose to follow King Jesus. And those people are not restricted in being able to follow their King. Perhaps we made our gatherings places of idolatry. Where we feel good because we “get” the social interactions that we need. I am not against social interactions, but they do not replace following Jesus and being obedient to his call on our lives.
These edicts have forced many churches to look for alternate ways to share the Gospel and encourage the believers. From the Pope live casting to small church using audio-conferencing; the tools we have are enormous. And for many in the Christian world, these tools were not harnessed in good ways. In the span of one week, people who never could, or never would go to church, are able to hear the Gospel. The tools that the church feared and maligned are now the tools to spread the Gospel. If we have to take a break from meeting together, remember that we are still called to share the story of Jesus. It is our space to act! I return to the words of many early Anabaptists who encouraged the people to keep any law that did not violate their conscience as Christians. In this case the government is not asking us to stop having church. We are actually able to reach audiences using technology in ways we never could if church buildings were open.
Another idea that is floating around out there is that the social distancing laws rob us of our “personal freedoms.” What are personal freedoms anyway? While not perfect these laws are intended to stop the spread of a disease, which science shows actually works. When we react and suggest that our “personal freedoms” are more important then bringing life, we are acting in supreme selfishness. The Government is called, according to the Scriptures, to protect the citizenry from any evil. I think that disease can be put into that class. In fact, war against this disease seems to be a more present and direct enemy than ever was Saddam Hussain, or many other enemies that Christians argued should be eliminated.
In the Old Testament God clearly pointed to drastic physical distancing as the means to deal with infectious diseases. This distance was not intended to hurt the people, rather, to protect and preserve life. Not personal freedoms, but LIFE. Life is what we need to fight for. So many people in our world today (by that I mean in our network of Christian people), are upset because they are not able to do what they want; when they want to do them. Can we give up our “freedoms” for the sake of LIFE?
The second voice that I hear out there is those people who are saying that this is not as bad as the media is portraying it to be. After all the flu, abortion, drunk driving, speeding, texting while driving, etc kills more people than this virus ever will. Yes you are right. And we should speak as directly to those issues as we do to this. I also recognize that the media does inflate, deflate, and malign the events. We often do so ourselves. I find it fascinating that those same people who are arguing that the media is at fault here, are themselves wanting to have a voice to broadcast their version of the truth. Remember this, everyone (including me) has an agenda. It is in the collection of facts, from a variety of sources that truth in this situation is revealed. Neither CNN or Fox News (as representatives of the spectrum in the media) have the corner on the truth.
I have observed many people posting “articles” by “experts” on social media. We have an old saying in my mother tongue, “papier is ruhig.” Translated – Paper is willing, or receptive. Receptive to whatever medium used to inscribe it. We can broaden that and say that paper, the cameras, or any other sources of “broadcasting” are receptive. I can write anything on paper and look the expert. I can get up and act the expert. I am reminded of someone who once told me that the Amish are all a part of the Amish mafia, since this person had seen that on TV. I told the same person that Princess Diana was not actually killed in an auto accident. She asked how I knew that, I replied that I had seen it in the “National Enquirer.” She was a tad bit upset, but got the point. Some of the “experts” speaking to this issue should apply at the Enquirer. If you think I should be doing so, be kind enough to find an application for me.
This does not absolve us of responsibility in the present situation. If the loss of one life is avoidable we should sit up and take note. We often act as though we are invincible because we have had so much prosperity and opportunity. We have not seen widespread disease and death inside our worlds, which we often attribute to our good ways of living. This raises questions of idolatry and motives. If we are reacting to the stay at home orders (or to the media) because our worlds have been upset; we are idolatrous. Historically, most of God’s people have not had the level of prosperity or peace as we have had in modern times. Could it be that our lifestyle and perceived goodness and obedience has been our god, and we think we are above the diseases of this world? What will we do when we suddenly feel feverish, or begin to cough? Unless a miracle happens, we will be touched by the disease. How will our gods of work then? What about returning to the True God; the God who cares about life and truth. Take some time to read the words of God himself in this matter in Deut. 31:16-18
Above the din of social media, I am also hearing a third group of people voicing conspiracies ranging from “this is a left-wing media propagated disease” to “5G signal” theories. This reflects how poor students of history we really are. When the Bubonic Plague infected Europe much of Christianity was certain that the Jews were the reason that the infection was so deadly. They instituted pogroms and killed many of them. When in fact, the plague was spread by poor sanitary practices (including the lack of physical distance) and the prolific amount of rats and fleas in their world. The Jews were blamed for the plague because their rate of infection was much lower, and in some areas, nil. The reason; they were socially and physically isolated in most European cities from the rest of the Christian population. In addition, they practiced much higher sanitary rules due to their adherence to the Mosaic Law and the dietary and sanitary practices in place there. Could we learn from this?
This virus is taking the path that all such viruses do; the path of least resistance. When we fight against the necessary means to stop the spread, or look for someone, or some group to blame, how are we any different than Christendom was in the time of the plague. In fact, calling it the “China Flu,” or focusing on some unproven conspiracy, does exactly what should not happen; it divides and brings death to our world. Exactly what the God of history calls his people not to do. We are called to bring LIFE, to choose LIFE, to give LIFE, and yes even give our LIVES.
There is often much wisdom in the final words of any person when they are aware that their own life is over. Consider the last words of Moses who had led his people through the wilderness, much death, disease, failure, and loud complaining. He is speaking to a very young group of people when he says: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse, Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying his voice and holding fast to him, for he is your life and length of days.” (Deut. 30:19-20a)