As my hometown region of South Florida has become an epicenter for the latest surge of the Coronavirus, breaking state and national single-day records for new cases being confirmed, my attitude about the pandemic has shifted, as I have been humbled by recent events – one, having found that a family of sheep from the flock I shepherd with my fellow elders, has been infected.
COVID-19 has now come close to home, virtually arriving on my doorstep (my son happens to work in a nearby hospital as well, struggling to find adequate space for COVID patients).
My new and improved, Christ-like or ‘Christ-conscious’ view of the pandemic, has taken the better part of four months to evolve, since our country and community shut-down in mid-March when the virus broke out in its initial wave. I had been pouring over scientific data, daily statistics and news updates from public health officials and other experts ever since, striving to find the truth of how bad this pandemic really is, and to find a balanced perspective that would enable me to better live and lead my family and church. To say that has been a challenge would be an understatement.
My research and observation led me to the conclusion that our country has become divided over the nature of this viral ‘beast,’ as if we didn’t have enough division to deal with already, in the wake of our post-Floyd killing season of civil unrest. In terms of COVID, I classified one extreme position as of those that believed that this strain was just another flu bug, a passing thing and that ‘herd immunity’ or a vaccine would soon come and the curve would flatten – permanently. Well, not so fast.
Part of that position’s emphasis- logical and reasonable as it may seem statistically, has focused on the quarantine of at-risk groups (e.g. the elderly and pre-existing health conditions), urging officials to allow the greater population of citizens to work, school and play with minimal concern for mitigation guidelines that called for masks and social distancing.
After all, the ‘stats’ and odds were and remain (to a lesser extent now) in their favor.
According to the most recent national numbers, only one percent of the nation’s population has sought testing for COVID and only four percent of the 3.3 million plus cases that have tested positive in the United States, have resulted in fatalities. Only?
Furthermore, less than one half of one percent of the county’s citizens have died since the pandemic has been tracked from the beginning of this year. Statistically speaking, it would be fair to say that the average American or Floridian for that matter, will not contract the COVID-19 virus and the overwhelming majority who do, will survive and recover from it without further incident- as far as we know. I admit I have leaned most towards this position in what is admittedly a somewhat subjective or ‘grey’ area of ethics, as well as science.
The other position of the pandemic I found, have been those who take, shall I say, a more ‘apocalyptic’ if not fearful view, to oversimplify it, and have hesitated to leave their homes for virtually any reason, other than for the most basic or critically urgent necessities of life. Some who are of this persuasion, insist on the strictest of guidelines and protocols for public interaction, less they contract the virus themselves.
Some of those of the later position I must confess, have tested my patience, particularly those that have sought to mandate what I deemed as unreasonable orders on church gatherings. The Supreme Court amongst its more mind-boggling and constitutionally questionable decisions of late, ruled that states such as California, can actually regulate away choir and congregational singing in worship services, an encroachment of the state upon the church that I would have thought unimaginable in this country.
A COVID Conclusion
However, I am coming to grips with the idea that a happy medium on COVID will not be found any time soon. Why? Too many Americans like their freedom and too many Christians like their liberty too much, making it harder for them to compromise or feel content with what are perceived as “draconian” measures to protect public health.
Such followers of Christ, may be in this instance, thought of as the “stronger brother,” the apostle Paul refers to in Romans 14-15.
These disciples understand and wish to enjoy ‘freedom in Christ’ on issues of opinion or in dispute or doubt, that are not explicitly dealt with in scripture. COVID rules and regulations would undoubtedly apply as being one of those grey issues.
Whereas, we have in contrast, the “weaker brother or sister” in Christ, who live by a very scrupulous or sensitive conscience on such issues and yearn for stronger fences or walls to be erected, against the possible abuses of freedom on such issues (e.g. alcohol, tobacco, movies and music) including perhaps, mitigation guidelines and policies.
Interestingly enough, in every church there are weak and strong believers, who will be strong on one issue and yet weak on another. Neither one is treated as inferior or superior by Paul, who acknowledges their equality and calls for their loving unity amidst their inherent diversity on such matters.
I believe one of the many things that God may be doing with our culture war and current afflictions such as COVID, is waking up the church and the country to the reality that life is hard and maybe short (ask the families of the 136,000 plus victims of the pandemic and counting)- but God is still good and teaching us a lesson or two for our good and his glory.
One lesson, is that the Lord is more concerned with our spiritual condition and relationship to him – including the millions of anti-God and antichrist rebels amongst us, whose biggest concern is the inconvenience and discomfort of mask wearing during this pandemic. God will periodically afflict a people with attention-getting methods (i.e. hurricanes, earthquakes, riots and pandemics) that point to his sovereign authority over the world and the need for a people’s repentance, in response to their rebellion of that authority.
For the church of Jesus Christ, this lesson may serve as a spotlight on our “cruise-control” Christianity, as one church member of mine put it, which presumes on God’s grace daily, living casually and all too comfortably in the U.S.A. We too easily fall to a view that takes life and uninhibited freedom for granted as some sort of civil right and guarantee, rather than the God-given privilege it is.
Stronger brothers and sisters in the church disobey the law of love that the New Testament speaks of, when they look down or frown upon their weaker brethren for being careful and cautious in this pandemic season, while a weaker brother may disobey the scriptural admonition to not judge or condemn the conscience of the stronger brethren, looking to live within reasonable guidelines and with a certain degree of liberty where it may be available.
Indeed, the COVID divide that exists among us can be difficult to navigate. It is as basic as the potential divide that exists between thinking about that which is probable, versus that which is possible.
The stronger brother on this issue may be living in the ‘probable’ camp, leaning on data to support their view that they are not very likely to become sick or lose their life during this pandemic, so they might ask, “Why not enjoy as much freedom as the odds allow?” Conversely, the weaker brother that may be camping out on the ‘possibilities’ of contracting the virus, may think that life is too precious to risk venturing out needlessly.
Neither position is objectively right or wrong and neither may be fully taking God’s sovereign and providential purposes into account. The Lord on the one hand may will to infect an overly “free” Christian presuming on his grace though the “odds” may be in his favor, while on the other hand, God may will to protect and heal or infect the Christian taking every precaution of care possible for other purposes.
I myself however, may have just jumped a notch or two from the stronger to the weaker brother position if you will, learning how close COVID can come, as it finally entered our community of faith.
Make no mistake, regardless of what side you’re on, we must take this virus seriously, because our God is serious about submission to his word and kingdom. There are plenty of reasons to. Moreover, the full understanding about resolving conflicts or issues between stronger and weaker church brothers, or the ‘liberals’ verses the ‘legalists’ among us, is that being Christ-conscious should result in love and grace – leading to unity, which must win out over sheer liberty. In other words, the believer needs to be reminded in our current COVID environment that love trumps liberty.
Despite our nation’s Declaration of Independence’s claim to the inalienable right of “liberty” – as Bible inspired as it seemed to be, it still falls short of the authority of Christian faith and its call to dependence on its Lord and Savior, which is manifest in the love of God and neighbor above ourselves. That love seems to include mask wearing as the governing authorities that God has ordained (Ro. 13; 1 Pet. 2) over us, have mandated in the interests of the public good or what theologians might call, common grace. In any case, the virus of grace is worth passing on. God’s people are to be Christ-conscious, in order to be Christ-contagious to a lost world. This COVID-19 wake up call gives us a prime opportunity to be just that.