Lesson 1: The Situation

Christian Mike Pence wears no mask in defiance of hospital policyI really ended the series on world religions because I was getting all sorts of emails that implied it was a good subject, but somewhat irrelevant in the midst of the pandemic. Along with this, I kept feeling a need to recognize what is going on in Christianity during this crisis.

In general, the situation just clarifies the problem already confronting us. All sorts of people who pretty much share the same theology totally disagree on the ethics that should follow. Every day, I read about people who claim they follow Jesus’ teachings but pray for things entirely the opposite of my requests.

This leads me to think Lupe is right when she says that the question to be asked is, “What does being our brother’s keeper mean today?” She suggests this has taken a different tone and nuance in the midst of the pandemic when simple human generosity is crucial and simple human ignorance and indifference are dangerous.

I also am finding some insight in rereading Jacques Ellul’s, Hope in Time of Abandonment. God certainly seems to be remaining silent during this pandemic. Although Ellul refrains from speaking of causes, he notes the silence is especially difficult because our technological society gives no voice to God. Everything is dependent on supposedly self-sustaining systems. At the same time, the culture of suspicion that has developed after Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx ridicules any Christian effort to transform the inner person. What presents itself as unconditional love is always exposed as self-serving.

Our dependency on technological systems is readily evident during the pandemic. Experts report the latest scientific data and projections daily. Our problem does not lie in whether one accepts or rejects these, but rather in how different groups think they are to be used when we recognize no common values. The suspicion and derision that Ellul describes is evident as both sides in our great political division ridicule and demonize the other.

Some of us fear this lack of a common ethic will continue to handicap society’s response. After 9/11, everyone traveling by air or entering public buildings must submit to rigid security checks. Calls for the necessity of widespread Covid-19 testing will likely bring further restrictions. This approach that relies solely on physical security, social engineering, and technical education will continue to endanger freedom. Pursuing a program of juridification that tries to pass laws covering every possible situation is already rapidly eroding common sense.

I am reminded of Jesus confronting the Pharisees with the need to live the spirit of the law. He warned these righteous people that basing all on laws that addressed any conceivable challenge was counterproductive. Instead, he proclaimed a love that transforms the inner person so that she desires to be her brother’s keeper.

Ellul maintains that, in this situation, Christians must base their decisions on hope that offers vision, but not particular programs. They must humbly seek starting points that respond to God’s promises of peace, mercy, and love, using these to critique life about them, including their own lifestyles. This hope recognizes that God eventually has always heard the cries of his people suffering and has come to deliver them.

I want to suggest some starting points in this series. Next week, I will begin by following another of Ellul’s guidelines. He thinks Christians must always contend with realism. That includes asking others and themselves Socratic questions based on experience. However, he thinks realism is also defined by hope in God’s promises. There should be no question that we all, and especially many of our leaders, need to get real if we are to cope in this pandemic.

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