By John Greenall
Whilst many seem to think lockdown is over, many others are still at home not venturing out. Fear is palpable. On my neighbourhood WhatsApp group Jim at Number 28 shares a post saying that ambulances are scarce, and children are dying in large numbers.
Am I the only one who thinks that many will struggle to exit lockdown? After all, many are speaking of not emerging until ‘all risks are eliminated’. Why is this the case when the same people have driven a car, smoked cigarettes and visited unwell relatives in hospital before now? Why are we evaluating risk the way we do? Why does rationality often go out of the window at times like these?
Here’s five possible reasons and how the church might consider responding to them.
There’s no doubt the coronavirus is more virulent than common flu but it is still an unknown quantity. We are used to knowing (or at least thinking we do) somewhat predictable risks for various activities. Equally we often feel we can control our exposure to such risks. Coronavirus is, at least for now, a different beast.
As Christians however this isn’t new. We should know that we are not and never have been in control of our lives. Voices of Christians in the two-third world have been telling us that for generations. We are to point to the sovereignty of God who works all things together for good for those who love him.
‘Stay At Home, Stay Safe’. While the words in that slogan convey comfort to my anxious soul, why is it that I also find them ever so slightly insidious? Perhaps because I know that emotional tactics are powerful and effective, but also often unwieldly and they may come at a cost.
And yet employing fear to coerce behaviour is not always a bad thing. People take their medicine when they fear the consequences of not taking it. When a parent I speak with understands that their child could get seriously unwell without their inhaler, they are more likely to administer the correct dose at the correct time
In church I wonder whether in our gospel presentation we have forgotten the positive power of fear. Do we go straight to the prescription of Jesus’ saving love or do we adequately portray the risks of our sin and rebellion? Unless we take the time to do this often-uncomfortable work, people will have no idea what they need to be saved from. A fear of God’s holiness and the consequences of sin are integral to scripture and a vital part of our message. Let’s preach the whole gospel and not shy away from an appropriate fear of God.
- Social conformity
In our narcissistic culture we always need to be seen to do the right thing. People fear stepping out of line and being tutted by neighbours or socially distanced on Facebook more than the reward of freedom.
Again, in our living out the gospel we need to acknowledge the healthy elements of conformity. Habit and group behaviour are helpful in leading us to God and training our hearts. And yet we must teach and live out the truth that God’s verdict on us is more important than the verdict of man. We must resist the pride and comparison that makes it all about us rather than all about God.
Our culture is the ideal breeding ground for a generation who are told that ‘being safe’ is the ultimate value in life. And yet a truism of real life is that it can’t be safe. We can’t be 100% sure schools or workplaces or supermarkets are safe. We never have been anyway.
As Christians we need to boldly and compassionately spell out that true safety is an illusion. As Christians we are safe both in life and in death. This is good news! Secularism in its immanent frame has no answer to compete so let’s be confident in declaring this antidote to fear.
- A love of captivity
History tells how whole populations have run to big government to shield them from external menace and accepted horrendous consequences in return. The comfort and predictability of what ‘is’ can outweigh the unknown of what ‘could be’. We are primed – spiritually I believe – to run to captivity rather than freedom.
In our churches we need to preach the whole gospel. We were created by God free to love and obey him. And yet in the fall we choose captivity in the name of freedom because we prefer to be the God of our own lives whatever the cost. True freedom is found in trusting in the perfect life Jesus lived for us and the punishment he took on our behalf in his death.
In conclusion, the Christian faith equips us for uncertain times. We should respect those who are genuinely at high risk. We should love our neighbours by not exposing them to unnecessary risk. We must value every life as precious and vigorously protect and advocate for the vulnerable. And as a church we should have the confidence to confront the idols of our culture and proclaim the true freedom we have in Christ.