We Weren't Afraid

For many of us it was never about fear. We wore masks. We social-distanced. We avoided gatherings. We encouraged people to consider participating in Sunday school and worship over Zoom or Facebook Live. We respected the officials who—for better or worse, correct or incorrect—made the tough calls and closed businesses, limited gatherings, and recommended or required masks.

We were not “afraid.”

We didn’t choose “fear instead of faith” and certainly didn’t choose “fear instead of science.”

What we felt was a sense of responsibility. We felt that responding wisely to a fast-spreading, largely mysterious disease required millions of people to do things that, individually, would only help a little bit, if at all, but that might, repeated millions of times by millions of citizens, reduce suffering and death.

This sense of responsibility seemed to be missing among many of our fellow Christians, and that grieved us.

We’re responsible to be good stewards of our own personal health and the health of our families.

Stewardship runs all through Scripture. The first man is instructed to take care of Eden (Gen 2:15). David publicly acknowledges that our possessions come from God and remain actually His (1 Chron 29:14, 16; cf. Psalm 24:1). Jesus teaches the parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30) and declares that to whom much is given much will be required (Luke 12:48).

Paul gets intensely personal:

… do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Cor 6:19–20)

Paul was making a point about sexual conduct, but bases his point on a broad principle: our bodies are a trust that we’ll answer for (2 Cor 5:10).

Other passages reveal another trust: those whom God has given us to love (1 Tim 5:8).

For the Christian, “looking out for number one” and “looking out for my family” are, above all, about responsibility, not about rights. Thinking biblically means we don’t see duty as an alternative to love and joy. We embrace duty out of love and with joy.

For a lot of us, distancing, avoiding unnecessary gatherings, wearing a mask in places where people gather (whether required or not), were conscious decisions to avoid being reckless with our own life and health as well as the life and health of our families. We felt something strongly, but “fear” is not its name.

We’re responsible for how our actions impact the well-being of those in the community we live in.

I’ve often posed a question to students: Why didn’t God take us to be with Him the moment we believed? One answer is that we’re here to do some things for the unbelieving masses around us.

Obviously, we’re here to help by making disciples (Matt 28:19) by declaring the message of the gospel and by doing good (Matt 5:16; see also Phil 2:15, Eph 5:8).

But there’s more. We’re here to bless those around us not just as a means to the end of disciple-making but because it glorifies God all by itself.

And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt 22:39–40)

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matt 7:12)

So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Gal 6:10)

The Christian mind elevates responsibilities over rights and sees the responsibility to do good as extending to both believing and unbelieving fellow humans.

When we started hitting 3,000 deaths a day I went for supplies with some apprehension a few times. Distance, mask, and hand sanitizer were of some comfort. But quite a few times, I’ve looked to see if people were masked then corrected myself: “Doesn’t matter. This is about helping people out. I don’t want to frighten anyone who’s high-risk or who’s just fearful, and I don’t want to spread disease if I can be part of reducing that in a small way by doing this small thing.”

We’re responsible for what we encourage other people to do or not do.

Example is a powerful thing, and not just for those in leadership. Because we’re social creatures, the behavior of those around us influences our sense of what’s normal. Some difficulties come with that, but God designed us this way.

In Christ’s body, the church (Col 1:18), God took that design a step further. Believers are not isolated individuals, not just members of a community, but members of a single living thing.

… But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Cor 12:24–26)

What we do or don’t do encourages others to do likewise, not just because they see us, but because they’re joined to us. For a lot of us, that prompted questions. I might be comfortable ignoring this or that precaution, county health department “request,” or clearly posted sign at a business. But what if my behavior causes someone else to stumble (Rom 14:21)? What if I unintentionally communicate support for the attitude that the driving force behind a Christian response to COVID is standing up for rights, or resisting the leadership of politicians we disagree with, or being broadly negative toward science?

We wanted to visibly convey compassion for others and support for decision-makers. Maybe we didn’t convey what we hoped. We certainly weren’t driven by fear.

We’re responsible for the impression we create of our faith.

Many are going to have a bad impression of the Christian faith no matter what we do. That doesn’t change the fact that we’re responsible for the impression we create by our actions.

… give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. (Rom 12:17)

… for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. (2 Cor 8:21)

… that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one. (1 Thess 4:12)

Peter seems to have confronted a self-inflicted pseudo-persecution problem:

16 Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God… . 
20 For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. (1 Pet 2:16–20)

When Jesus said “the world” would “hate” us (John 15:9), He didn’t mean “people in general” or “most unbelievers,” but either way, we’re not supposed to make hating us easy by needlessly appearing to be the arrogant, self-absorbed, and self-righteous people critics say we are.

Some of us felt that churches should join their communities in the struggle and try to convey not only Christian calm, but Christian compassion and Christian wisdom. We didn’t see how we could do that by acting as though the pandemic wasn’t real or wasn’t serious or as though mitigation efforts were foolish. We thought “we care about people” was a more important message than “we care about holding services.”

So, right or wrong, we stayed home. We didn’t do it because we were afraid.

Photo by Edwin Hooper on Unsplash.

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There are 10 Comments

dgszweda's picture

It probably won't matter how biblically we base our reasoning on, there is going to be a substantial number of evangelicals who will fight masks.  None of them biblical.  But I am finding more and more of the church fragmenting with fights that are not biblically based.  People want to hear from the Bible those things that support there ideas, and ignore those elements in the Bible that go against their ideas.  We are increasingly not seeking Scripture to illuminate our actions, but to support our actions.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I can see valid arguments against masks, in favor of actively resisting restrictions, etc., but by "valid" I mean some of them are logically sound if you accept the premises.

Mainly with this one I wanted to answer a criticism I've heard a lot of variations of over the last year--an oversimplification: that there are those dismissing/downplaying all of the concern and mitigation efforts and there are those caught up in the "hysteria," and "panic" who are "driven by fear." One or the other.

They didn't quite put it that way, but it was an assumption reflected in what they did say, because the whole idea of acting out of a sense of responsibility was never considered.

I understand to some extent why this thinking is appealing. There's no denying that being Christian has some "contrarian" posture built into it, some counter-cultural attitudes. That's as it should be because deep down we're on a completely different road. But it can become reflexive and arbitrary rather than thoughtful and intentional. Some things are neither uniquely Christian or uniquely non-Christian. They're just human.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Mark_Smith's picture

all the head scratching and histrionics on both sides. This is simple. A serious new virus showed up. You take precautions to limit its effects. It isn't about "faith" or "fear", just prudence.

Since people weren't prudent, now we have a problem. We have a safe vaccine, but millions won't take it because "they don't trust it" ot "they think they don't need it." That leaves the prudent people still sitting on the outside looking at all the clowns who blew off this thing wondering who are these people I used to call "brother/sister" or "friend." It's sad.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

I would argue that that is much more of a spectrum to people's views on this virus than just dismissal, panic, or a single category representing responsibility or prudence.  Just as with Christian liberty and application of scriptural truth, there is a wide range of people who are not at one of the extremes, and guess what -- not all of them when considering responsibility and prudence will come to the same conclusion as to what to do about it.

Yes, I know some people who either don't believe this virus is real, or believe it can't affect them at all, just as I know some who think it's the next thing to Armageddon.  Those are extremes.  I suspect that most who haven't worried much about Covid aren't in the former category, just as most of those who have received the vaccine and even many of those who act as mask Karens aren't in the latter.

Some of us, when we want to rate prudence, actually try to consider factors such as death rate, serious illness rate, economic risk of lockdowns, risk of side-effects with mask usage, possible risks with a new treatment, risks to people's mental and spiritual well-being, etc., rather than just taking the supposedly "most prudent" track of simply doing whatever is supposed to result in maximum protection, both of themselves and others.  And what do you know -- not all of us with all that data are going to come to the same conclusion as to what we should do about it.

Just as it's unwise to cast all of those who follow every possible suggestion about how to behave during this pandemic as being driven by fear, it's also wrong to put those who do want to be responsible and prudent, but don't see everything the same as the first group, and don't follow every suggested restriction in the category of being totally dismissive and uncaring of others.  But unsurprisingly, the idea that we should consider things carefully, and accept responsibility for our own choices is just as much out of fashion in the Covid realm as it is with those who hate the idea of Christian "liberty" not somehow resulting in the exact same actions and standards for every single person.

Dave Barnhart

dgszweda's picture

Mark_Smith wrote:

all the head scratching and histrionics on both sides. This is simple. A serious new virus showed up. You take precautions to limit its effects. It isn't about "faith" or "fear", just prudence.

Since people weren't prudent, now we have a problem. We have a safe vaccine, but millions won't take it because "they don't trust it" ot "they think they don't need it." That leaves the prudent people still sitting on the outside looking at all the clowns who blew off this thing wondering who are these people I used to call "brother/sister" or "friend." It's sad.

It really isn't any different from how we were probably all raised.  Cover your mouth when you cough, wash your hands.... We have a more extreme virus that causes more problems so in essence we just extended these.  What I find interesting is how at the same time that we did all of this, it also impacted other diseases.  Influenza was pretty much non-existent during the typical flu season this year.  The stomach bug almost did not go around, instances of colds were significantly reduced this year.

Bert Perry's picture

I'm a "lab rat" for a Mayo study about RSV, and the irony is that my upper nasal passages and sinuses have been so healthy the past year, I've given them precisely zero data.  

Regarding taking part in social distancing, I've been and remain on board for that for the most part, but the flip side is that with all the missteps and bad advice--send COVID patients  into nursing homes, shut down the schools and force kids to wear face masks outside in 90 degree heat, "prevent" transmission by keeping spectators at track meets in the stands, and the like--those who ought to have authority have thrown it away. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dgszweda's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

those who ought to have authority have thrown it away. 

I think many Christians (and conservatives) have found fault in the authorities and scientists because advice has changed.  They have extrapolated that to indicate that all advice is suspect and potentially harmful, to then extrapolating it further that they can really no longer be trustworthy.  I get why they feel that way, but I think most Christians don't understand the challenge of interpeting a new disease, a once in a century pandemic, and the need to try to protect the health of individuals.  There were definitely missteps, but I am not sure we can throw the baby out with the bathwater here.  In most cases, not in all, but in most cases, the best decision was being made with the given facts at hand.  Hindsight is always 50:50.  Given the fact that for whatever reason our health officials were under tremendous political pressure didn't make it any better.  Trump didn't handle this aspect of it at all.  People got mad because scientist wanted to lock everything down, they thought it was ridiculous.  Trump took the pushback from his base and decided to interpret that as a call to discredit the scientists.  Then it just cascaded into a political pressure mess as governors and other elected officials took their cue from Trump and wanting to get into his good graces began to further disinformation to discredit everyone.

What should have happened in a normal operating government is that a proper plan should have been developed.  Yes scientists are going to push to an extreme because there focus is on saving every single life.  Not the impact and the cost.  Government is focused on the impact and the cost.  They should have developed a cohesive plan that balanced out everything.  Instead it just turned into a disinformation and discrediting campaign.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Since people weren't prudent, now we have a problem. We have a safe vaccine, but millions won't take it because "they don't trust it" ot "they think they don't need it." That leaves the prudent people still sitting on the outside looking at all the clowns who blew off this thing wondering who are these people I used to call "brother/sister" or "friend." It's sad.

I sympathize, but this sounds bitter to me. I really do sympathize because I've wrestled quite a bit with my attitude not just over Covid response and church response to perceived government excess, but trends on the political right that seem to have penetrated deeply into our churches.

The last 5 years have been pretty disappointing and often shocking for me, and with that comes some disillusionment and disorientation. I'm trying not to fall prey to the voice in me that says "There's everyone who agrees with me (all six of them) and then there's all the idiots." It's not that simple, and I know it's not that simple, but the feeling is strong. 

I don't see that battle ending this side of glory unless I enter a phase of life where I just tune it all out. Which is certainly possible.

Yes scientists are going to push to an extreme because there focus is on saving every single life.  Not the impact and the cost.  Government is focused on the impact and the cost.

This is an important point. There have been a lot of unrealistic expectations of our elected officials, public health officials, and scientists. In a democratic nation, elected leaders never get to just evaluate data and make policy without considering how everyone is going to perceive and react--and how their decisions will impact their alliances and backing outside their jurisdiction also.

Even if you're as good a human being as is possible to be as an elected official, you have tension between "the public good" and "my ability to continue to work for the public good." And the latter depends on politics... who backs you, who hates you, who you can make deals with, who you cant.

People should expect that leadership in that kind of role is going to be complicated, often misrepresented by antagonists, often spun by all sides. That doesn't make these people evil. So dialing down the judgmentalism would, on the whole, be healthy.

On public health officials and scientists: Of course people are going to be most passionate about what they do for a living, so those do research highly value research and have a lot of faith in research. Those who look out for public health want to push for everything that might help in that area even a little.

Here's what I haven't seen much of though: pushing back/challenging the work of scientists and health officials while maintaining appreciation for what drives them and respect for both their motives and their work.

The disease in our public discourse is the inability to disagree without demonizing. Or that's a symptom of the disease. Either way, it's killing us. Problems aren't solved optimally (if at all) without the cooperation of a lot of people, and that requires listening, respectful disagreement, compromise, and cooperation. It's just reality.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

....because advice has changed, David, but because some of the advice (again, not speaking up when COVID patients were being sent to nursing homes to recuperate?  Seriously) was so darned bad and so at variance with the science they were determining.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It's worth noting that none of us wants the groups we're a part of or work we do be characterized by its outliers/it's worst examples.

Pretty much through this whole thing, I've been reacting to overgeneralizations about governors, health officials, and scientists based on some who got it pretty obviously wrong in a few ways.

And there's the retroactive criticism of decisions made based on what we're confident of now, vs. what we could be confident of at the time.

It seems ungenerous and not very golden rule.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

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