A couple of months ago, I was planning to start a new series on this blog but since then life has become dominated by coronavirus. We have largely been confined to our house for most of this time. Other parts of life have also faced major disruption – for example our planned Easter holiday was cancelled and we were left to enjoy the beautiful weather in the back garden!
Yet we are very fortunate. I am still able to work full time, we haven’t suffered the financial hardship that many have, and we have stayed healthy. Plenty of people have had a much harder time, while others put their health on the line as they work in the health service or other front line roles.
It seemed strange therefore to not reflect on the current situation with most things locked down and our lives so changed.
There are many things which could be said, but one thing that has struck me is how this crisis has demonstrated both the impressive and good – as well as the disheartening and bad in people. This is nothing new but is probably more visible in the challenging times.
The amazing things that people have and are achieving are easy to spot. Whereas only a decade or two ago we had no choice but to go out to work – so a requirement to socially isolate would have caused the economy to come to a stand still – now many of us can work from home, with good access to online work facilities, and the world’s store of knowledge only a quick search away. Our understanding of the natural world also continues to grow such that scientists around the world can realistically talk of a hope to find and produce a vaccine for this disease within the next year. Kindness and generosity also abounds – with many ordinary people willing to face a higher risk of infection to serve and help others, stories of generous gifts made to health workers, and many examples of everyday offers of help to the vulnerable and those in need.
Yet despite all our scientific and technological prowess, the reality is that the world has been brought to a standstill by a small piece of biological material, a fraction of the size of a cell. It is a reminder that while we have tremendous knowledge and the ability to manipulate matter at both small and large scales, we still often find ourselves powerless against the natural world. Our tendency to often not do the right thing is also easy to see. The news abounds with examples of high profile figures and government officials who have demonstrated that they think they are above following the lockdown rules. A walk around the streets also highlights many ‘ordinary’ people who are not socially distancing – placing their personal desires above maintaining low infection levels and keeping others safe. And there are many examples of those who exploit this health tragedy for their own financial gain.
As well as the strength and brilliance of people, we see their weakness.
The Bible also points out these two sides to human kind. It acknowledges that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made’ (Psalm 139 NIV). Multiple times we are described as made in the image or likeness of God (Genesis 1, 5, James 3 and elsewhere) bestowing a very high view of our nature and value. Yet we fail to live up to who we have been made – we have all ‘fallen short’ (Romans 3) and this failing permeates to the very heart of each of us for ‘the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure’ (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV). This is often exacerbated by our own failure to recognise our limitations – ‘if you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin, but now that your claim your can see, your guilt remains’ (John 9:42 NIV).
It’s important to recognise and keep in tension both of these parallel truths about ourselves (and recognise that they are true for each individual as well as mankind as a whole). When we tend to focus on one and not the other – as we often do! – problems arise. So, for example, some Christians will emphasise our sinfulness, and that even our best actions may be tainted with bad motivation. This may be true but if we say this alone then it doesn’t ring true to many as they receive sacrificial love, deep kindness and generosity from their friends and relatives. But if we only see the good in people and not the bad, we can end up with a foolish optimism and a belief in the upward progress of society. We think that we will be able to sort out everything our ourselves and will most likely end up disappointed and disillusioned. We fail to recognise that we need a saviour.
As C S Lewis put it,
‘You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve’ said Aslan, ‘And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth’