REFLECTIONS & ENCOURAGEMENTS: understanding and growing through the covid-19 challenge.
Bishop Peter Brain Reflection 28: Is the new normal: the old normal?
It is distressing, but not surprising, that many of the positive effects of the pandemic are quickly unravelling under the pressures of personal intransigence, political party pressure and fear. The cobbled- together unity that has worked so well for us as a nation has been put under pressure by groups of citizens, who, by their own admission, will not be dictated to or see their own freedoms restrained in the interests of others. There is nothing new about this sin which infects us all. Such is our nature; where party and personal interests, fuelled by opportunism or the cheap shot of a 10-second media criticism, tend to move more naturally in the direction of division than unity. The oft trumpeted cry, “united we stand and divided we fall” and the Three Musketeers’ motto, “all for one and one for all” is trumped by the more realistic quip, “and every man for himself!” Christian doctrine comes to our rescue as it keeps us from being surprised by these turns of events, and catches us out in our reactions, mercifully rescuing us from our own self-righteousness, pride and unrealistic expectations of governments.
It is too easy to fire pot shots from the safety of the side-lines at those who make themselves available for public office. Just as their victories are easy to see, like rugby full-backs and soccer goalies, their mistakes are evident to all. A serious aspect of our nature is to not only blame others but also to expect others to provide the solution. My college Principal used to say that in the end there are only two options for government: people who take responsibility for being other-person-centred, or a policeman on every street corner to enforce behaviour. The unenviable position that the Premier of Victoria has found himself in has been made necessary by those refusing to think of others by asserting their own rights. This all comes back to original sin, that propensity to put self-will, before God’s. Self-will inevitably leads to anarchy, the need for enforced restraint with an ever increasing tightening of laws, whereas God’s will, humbly pursued, leads to the common good. The common-grace restraints of just laws, community spirit and the need of the hour are usually enough to bring out enough good to overcome self-interest, at least for a while. When saving grace is added, with a solid block of believers obeying and exemplifying the command of Jesus to love neighbours as themselves (Matt 19:19), there is a strong base for joint action that mitigates against the pursuit of our rights in favour of responsibility to act for the common good.
Sin has been observed in many contexts during the pandemic. One is the way persecuted believers have been discriminated against in government food distributions. Since believers are not members of the majority religion they have often been denied relief. This kind of practice is difficult for Westerners to understand because we have social security and voluntary relief groups, and common grace built on the back of Christian example that usually takes non-discrimination for granted. But this is not the norm in many cultures. But does it make us any better, and more to the point, any less self-absorbed than these others? Of course not. Especially if we fail to step into the breach by using our surplus to meet the needs of all (Luke 10:25-37), and believers, as taught by our Lord in the parable of the sheep and goats (Matt 25:31-46). The defining difference, with eternal consequences (25:46), hinges on their response to the least of these my brethren. Meeting their need for food, clothing and help in prison because they were believers (25:40, 45) was the determining factor for their eternity. This is heady stuff. We are justified by faith alone, but such faith will never be alone, as Jesus and His apostles warn us (Matt 7:24; 12:50; Gal 6:9-10; James 2:22; 1 John 4:20-21). The real challenge is the unassuming nature of the sheep. Their answer, “but when did we see you..?” revealed their habitual, second-nature way of thinking and acting, just as the goats had become habitually indolent in their self-interest. Practise makes permanent for good or ill, depending upon whose will we pursue.
The pandemic will have served us well if we learn that we are all responsible for the world’s problems, that we can make a difference, daring not to assume that it is the government’s responsibility to solve it for us. Governments, at the end of the day, can only change the deck chairs on the Titanic, whereas we can help people change ships! We know this since the Bible tells us so. We agree with G K Chesterton’s famous reply to The Times question, “what is wrong with the world?” “Dear Sir, I am, yours truly, GKC!” Having rattled our security, Covid-19 gives us opportunity to commend Jesus and his gospel of grace. It is obvious that we are neither the masters of our destiny nor the captain of our souls, as the poem, Invictus, might have us believe. Unless, of course we align ourselves, by faith and works, with Jesus, the Master of all. We allow Him to master us as we give ourselves to feed our persecuted and poor fellows and speak to those who may well be assessing their basis for security. Since this is in response to His kindness and command we can be confident that the task is neither beyond us nor insignificant. Edmund Burke’s words are wise, “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” The pandemic that humbles, invites us to serve, because we have been served by Him (2 Cor. 8:9).
Peter Brain 3rd July, 2020