Lesson 19: Ambiguity in the Pandemic

wear a mask?I started this series because everything I was writing at the time only made sense in the context of the pandemic. Any consideration of a theological or ethical proposal ended up being tested by how it worked in the present situation.

I decided I might as well turn it around by examining the new problem or issue that was emerging every week. At that time, most of us expected the pandemic to last a couple months. Now at the seven-month point and anticipating it could go on for another nine months or a year, a little reflection is in order.

The first thing that jumps out is that this is a very paradoxical situation. People around me are torn between hoping this is a chance to make significant improvements in our society and worrying that things will just get worse. For instance, they think the upheaval in the economy might lead to changes that will provide care for the poor and yet they see the rich are just getting richer during the shutdown.

There are calls for a more democratic government that are countered by demands for a more autocratic state. Hopes that our deeply divided political groups would come together to work for the common good have pretty much been squashed. Wearing or not wearing a mask to protect others has become a political statement about the meaning of freedom. Both parties accuse the other of habitual lying, name-calling, and cheating,

There is no doubt some of this conflict results from the powerful who are exploiting the situation for their own advantage. However, the cause seems to go deeper. The pandemic has brought to the surface pervasive and deep-seated ambiguities in our society. People hear or see the same things and have completely different interpretations.

This is to be expected in the modern technological society whose only value is efficiently enabling people to get what they want. That works when everyone seeks the same thing. We all use electronic media to overcome our isolation. We all depend on computerized research to find a vaccine quickly. However, when people lack a common goal, technology can be life threatening. People appear on our streets threatening each other with powerful semi-automatic weapons rather than rationally discussing their differences.

Sadly, the church that could be the conscience of society is not much help. Church bodies have absolutely opposing understandings of what following Jesus means. From a Lutheran perspective, one group promotes a theology of glory and the other a theology of the Cross. The former believes Jesus offers a formula for living successfully in this world. This kind of incarnational theology offers clear cut rules for being truly human. It has a lot to offer, because Jesus’ teachings do promote a lifestyle. However, the pandemic has exposed many are using it to support their own parochial version of the Way.

Prior to the pandemic I heard numerous calls to focus on this incarnational theology and deemphasize the crucifixion. Critics reasoned that we simply cannot define what Jesus’ dying on the cross was all about. They particularly lamented that many are presently using it to promote an anything goes lifestyle.

The pandemic exposes the danger of doing this. Because the crucifixion proclaims a relationship with God found in the ambiguities of life in this world, it offers grounds for reconciling our differences. Discussing how Jesus’ execution can be an expression of divine love throws light on both God and this world.

All of this is to say, I plan to examine the theology of the Cross in the coming weeks.

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  1. John Myers says:

    Absent.

    I believe this pandemic has created many opportunities and will be the new 911 for a generation. In my view, income redistribution is not the opportunity. Fear is the true pandemic in our society today. Bringing the faithless, or those whose faith has been hibernating, to a place of security and emotional well being is an opportunity….. to bring the message of hope that is the Gospel of Jesus Christ to quell the fear. I see too many being absent in this task today.

    I agree we are more divided as a people in the US than at any time I can recall in my lifetime. You’d think we are on the verge of a civil war. I do not believe the mask issue divides us, but it has become a symbol for many underlying root causes. Certainly government veracity, legitimacy, and function in society all factor in. Many believe while the virus is real and should be taken very seriously, the public mandates and policy response is not based on science or fact but instead is yet more political marionette work….and hence is a Great Lie. Businesses built for generations are lost overnight. Many jobs lost, never to be regained, bring economic ruin to families. Children unexpectedly home from school. Churches closed for 6 months with no plans to reopen until next year. Many in despair ask if people are really willing to sacrifice their entire way of life….for this? The fear that drives this train is built on fear of earthly death. What an opportunity to have a discussion about that. Where is the church?

    Finger pointing and distrusting others abounds, amplified by echo chambered social media and sensationalist news media in ways that could never have happened a generation ago. Hate is rampant. So rampant, pandering evil leverages it successfully to cause riots, looting, and unrest not seen since the 1960’s. In the midst of all this, where are we? Where is the Church of Jesus Christ? We must speak to this, and to do so…..we cannot be behind a screen. We must connect personally with others as we have always done. There is no substitute.

    We cannot be absent in the worst possible time to be so.

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