Dear Church in Quarantine:
I pray these letters are helping ground our current trial in the Word of God and helping us navigate these anxious times with a Christian perspective. Today, I want to share another important insight from one of my favorite Christian thinkers, Skye Jethani, who is the cohost of my favorite podcast, “The Holy Post,” which our mPod has been gathering around and discussing. Skye writes:
Americans have prided themselves for being “rugged individualists.” We are, after all, a country of immigrants, pioneers, and entrepreneurs. We celebrate those who defy communal expectations in order to pursue their dreams, and many of our most beloved cultural stories exalt individual achievement over shared sacrifice. Like many other societies, we celebrate independence, but unlike others, we Americans define independence as radical autonomy—the severing of responsibility for those around us.
The current COVID-19 pandemic, however, is revealing the limits of our independence. Despite our cultural rhetoric, we are biologically, psychologically, and spiritually communal creatures. Autonomy is an illusion. From the very beginning, God designed us to exist interdependently. As he said in the garden, “It is not good for man to be alone.” That is why in a very real way your health and safety depend on mychoice to wash my hands and practice social distancing. Infectious diseases, like the coronavirus, thrive precisely because we are designed to live interdependently.
In the United States, and particularly among American Christians, we like to believe each individual will reap what he sows. But the truth is, within complex human societies we often reap what others have sown. Just ask those who lost homes during the economic collapse of 2008 caused by unscrupulous Wall Street banks, or the soldiers and civilians impacted by wars they never chose. Of course, we can also benefit from the choices of others. The structures of civilization itself—including those fighting this pandemic like the government, health care systems, and science—have all been inherited from previous generations.
Turning to scripture, we discover an important balance. On the one hand, the Old and New Testaments both affirm the value, dignity, and responsibility of individuals. On the other, the Bible also affirms our fundamental interdependence and our collective posture before God as “a people” not just as individuals. For example, while an exile in Babylon, Daniel offered a lengthy prayer of confession for the sins of God’s people. Daniel included himself in the people’s guilt even though there is no evidence that he ever participated in their wickedness himself.
Likewise, the Lord’s Prayer uses only plural pronouns. Even when praying alone, we are to recognize our collective relationship to “Our Father,” ask him to forgive “our trespasses,” and remember that he is delivering “usfrom evil.” Even Jesus’ atoning death only makes sense through a collective vision of humanity. We worship the Lamb of God who took away the sins of the world. Contrary to the popular American worship chorus, the Bible does not say Jesus “thought of me above all.” And the gospel, at its core, is about not reaping what you’ve sown. Instead, Jesus reaped the punishment for our sin, just as we have reaped the reward of his obedience.
Similarly, as we consider our response to this current crisis, we must see beyond ourselves and act for the common good rather than just our own. Your decisions will affect your neighbors, and their decisions will affect you. We are all in this together, and that is exactly how God designed it to be.
If you found this helpful, please share it with others.
Grace and peace,