History Has Its Eyes on Christians. What Will It Say About Our Pandemic Response?
One of the most compelling lines in the musical Hamilton is when George Washington says to an eager young Hamilton, who longs to go into battle, “Dying is easy, Son, living is harder.” How we have felt that in 2020.
Whether you think Covid-19 is a serious threat that requires prolonged shut-downs, or just another virus to contend with, I think we can all agree that this year has presented unexpected challenges. Every shuttered business owner, every mother working from home trying to keep kids Zoom-ing their way through school, and every isolated elderly woman and man say “Amen.”
Our nation is caught up in full-throated debates about how to stop the spread and what that should look like, but years from now history will speak for us. Long after we have ceased studying the statistical models for signs of hope or despair, long after we have agonized over whether or not to travel for the holidays, historians will dissect and redefine what happened and the long-term ramifications of the disease and its aftermath.
More importantly, history will maintain a record of how we responded to the chaos, of how our humanity either thrived in the time of pandemic or floundered. Christians will carry a particular burden. We have run on the platform of love and charity for a couple millennia. So they will pay particular attention to whether we spoke louder or acted louder in this time. What will our words on love and charity be worth in retrospect?
Our default human reaction is to focus on our limitations, and in this time, there are a multitude of circumstances we cannot choose or control. We can’t fully control if we will get exposed to the virus. We can’t know if we will be the ones who become symptomatic or whose bodies will succumb to sickness. We chose our elected officials, but now we must watch them from the sidelines as they lead us through this crisis.
But I would argue we have always had less physical power than we thought. Our limitations on controlling our own lives are only being exposed, not altered, in this moment. It doesn’t feel good. It doesn’t appeal to our individualistic sensibilities. But it’s our reality.
I would also argue that we have always had more spiritual power than we thought. That we (and only we) do have access to the very things that makes us most potent in a hurting world. We were given a mandate to be the light, the physical manifestation of Jesus’ hope and love and peace for the world after his departure (Matthew 5:13-16). A pandemic doesn’t change the calling or our ability to fulfill it. There is nothing standing in our way except for us. As long as we’re living, we get to choose how we are going to live.
And if we are like a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden, then for better or worse we are exposed for all to see. Our light is either dimmed and dismayed, as we join the angry fray and rail against disease, politics, and people; or we are something altogether otherworldly. We are bright when we have no reason to be. We are not only providing a way through for ourselves but able to guide others into emotional and spiritual safety and peace. We are firm and steady, equal to the task.
There will be a record of us, of how we responded, of how we lived in this time. And despite all of the things we cannot control or choose, the most vital things are ours for the taking.
We choose how well and how unconditionally we love all kinds of people when tensions flare.
We choose to double down on improving relationship with those in our current sphere or sink into despair and social media binges.
We choose to either watch from a distance as businesses close and families struggle or to reach out and be the practical hands and feet of Jesus.
We choose to hold onto the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7) or live in continual fear.
How will they say we lived when all of this is over? How did we live through the uncertainty? How did we live through the home schooling? How did we live through the isolation? How did we live through the political drama?
The light described in Matthew 5 shone through deeds, not words. It implies that others will experience our faith in action, and that is the reason they will believe in a good God. Not because we said He is but because they experienced it firsthand. And that light will not just be for us, but it will fill the whole house around us. It will give light to the community. It will give light to the nation. Good news spreads like wildfire, and right now we are all hungry for it.
This is a time for strife and debating to cease and for our love to tangibly flourish. Let our good deeds, the many ways we lived and loved well, be the statistic most talked about a hundred years from now. Let our hope, shown practically in our lives, be what they remember most.