|Photo by Flavio Gasperini
A SPIRIT OF CYNICISM HAUNTS the West right now. By itself, this would be nothing new. Media does a good job of keeping us cynical at our governments even under good conditions.
But this cynicism is particular. There is a section of the public who believe―rightly or wrongly―that they were asked by the government to make large social, emotional, and financial sacrifices needlessly. Let’s call them ‘lockdown cynics’. It is to this group that I now attempt, however inadequately, to write. I write not as a political person. It’s not my goal to either confirm or discourage your views. I write as a pastor to equip your heart in light of your convictions.
Perhaps you’re suspicious now. Let me share three reasons why you might be lockdown cynic in hopes that you’ll see I’m trying to understand you. Is that too bad?
- You were told this virus was far more deadly than it has proven to be. You were asked to put your whole life on hold for a threat you now see as greatly exaggerated.
- The lockdown has seemed to drag on for far longer than originally projected. The ‘flaten the curve’ excuse doesn’t work anymore. Restrictions on personal liberties no longer make sense to you.
- Some of the loudest political voices in favour of the lockdown turned a blind eye to other groups. They hypocritically forbade places of worship and other community groups from meeting while abortion clinics, liquor stores, and mass protests carried on as normal. It looked to many like what was declared ‘essential’ came from a less than objective perspective.
Understandably, your patience has worn thin. We were told that, if we sacrificed, other people would be safe and lives would be spared. At first, you were willing to sacrifice for so noble sounding a cause. But now you perceive that the narrative, the rules, and the overall significance surrounding these sacrifices has changed―often due more to political posturing than actual data. You now see the lockdown as safetyism gone amuck.
Now, to what degree your perceptions are either valid or not, my simple fingers dare not try to work out. Let those far smarter and better researched than I do the debating. I’m not seeking to change your mind. Write your MP or Congressman and protest peacefully if your conscience so leads you. I’m a pastor. What I wish to do here is give you four words of spiritual guidance to help you manage your social and political convictions.
One: God’s in Charge
Remember that crazy time when Ceasar commanded everyone to travel to their hometown in order to be taxed. What a dumb law! What a massive inconvenience! Even pregnant women were travelling!
But God’s rule transcended human stupidity and he used this crazy situation to fulfil prophecy and bring about the birth of the Messiah. God is not anxious. He’s on the throne. He can bring about good amidst human chaos.
Two: Let Convictions be Humble
This may sound the hardest, but it must be said: always be open to the possibility that you are wrong. Few seem to do this nowadays. Yes, the Bible speaks about foolish leaders. It warns about the pitfalls of fear and worry. But the pendulum can swing to the other extreme. There are also examples of prophets warning of coming disaster and of people scoff at those warnings―only to later be destroyed.
At the time of this writing, it is being reported that the virus has mutated from humans to infect a cat in the UK and a dog in the USA. If this bug can jump species, we might at least acknowledge the possibility that it could mutate into a more dangerous form. Right now, this virus is only taking out 0.02% of the population with most being 80+. Relatively mild in terms of historic pandemics. But what if COVID mutated and rose to five percent? You couldn’t get people to work at supermarkets. Food would get scarce. People would turn to beasts. I’m not predicting this will happen. Simply saying let’s be humble enough to admit that we don’t know for sure. This storm ain’t over yet.
Three: Mourn Your Pain
Secondly, the Bible is sympathetic to your pain. It is full of tragically needless sacrifices. Often, we see innocent people suffering because someone else made a bad call. In Judges chapter 11, Jephthah makes a vow. He is at war and he promises to sacrifice to God the first thing that comes out of his gate should God grant him victory. The vow sounds good. Noble even. Jephthah destroys his enemies. He wins! As returns home, he looks for what might trot out of his gate.
Look, something is coming! What is it?
Jephthah’s daughter is sacrificed because of someone else’s hasty vow. (Whether she was actually killed or given to the temple as a perpetual virgin servant―like a nun―is debated by commentators. In either case, she would not have been happy.)
This girl had plans for her life. Now, because of someone else’s foolishness, she had to make a radically costly sacrifice. Perhaps you feel the same way.
How did she cope? The Bible says that she went away and mourned with her friends for two months over the whole deal. The Bible doesn’t paint life out to be prettier than it is. It doesn’t polish turds. She accepted the arrows of her outrageous misfortune and wept over them. But not alone. She with those who would understand what this loss meant to her.
Mourning with those who care is always a better path than growing bitter. Yes, if your conscience leads you to take peaceful action, do so. But don’t let continual rage destroy your soul.
Four: Look to the Bigger Sacrifice
Finally, yes, you have sacrificed under this lockdown. And you think that sacrifice was needless. Perhaps it was. Jephthah’s daughter also sacrificed needlessly. But there’s an even more important story than hers I’d like you to keep in mind.
There’s another child who was also sacrificed in the Bible because of someone’s foolish actions. This sacrifice cost his actual life. Unlike Jephthah’s daughter, he didn’t have friends to mourn with. They all fell asleep. He wept alone. But it wasn’t his father’s foolish actions that were the cause of his death.
The foolish actions were yours.
The centrepiece of the Christian message is that someone else paid a full and violent sacrifice because of your foolishness against God. He took all of your ignorant words and decisions and buried them with his body in the grave. He rose again three days later to reign and offer mercy in place of judgement.
You will never be free of your bitterness towards the those in authority unless you realise that you too have been foolish. The Innocent One was sacrificed on your behalf. And that Innocent One loves you in spite of you. Only in that love will you find the strength to forgive this world and its governments their monumental injustices.
Then you can―with a humble heart that trusts God’s reign, has mourned its losses, and that offers mercy to adversaries―do what your conscience demands in political and social action with a pure and good heart.