Lament for a Pandemic
As of my writing of this letter, there have been over 18,000 deaths in my state, 580,000 deaths in my country, and 3.1 million deaths worldwide related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, as I was telling my wife, it’s strange that there is little or no communal lament for the loss of so many people. The United States has experienced more than twice as many deaths from COVID-19 than World War II and is rapidly approaching the total death count of the bloodiest war for Americans: the civil war.
I’m not sure what the reason for this is, though I have some guesses. In war, our sons, husbands, and young fathers are the ones affected in the greatest proportion, but with this pandemic, the elderly are the greatest affected. Perhaps we simply feel the impact of the deaths less if it’s the elderly who die early. We certainly don’t view the elderly as the storehouses of wisdom and insight we once did. American culture, at least, idolizes youth.
It could be that we are so focused on how to “solve” the pandemic that we have not taken the time to feel the impact of those we have lost. Or perhaps we don’t care as much about the people who die as we do about our partisan understandings of the pandemic and our responses to it.
It could be all of those in some measure, or it could be none of them. Whatever the case may be, I would ask you to stop and consider the impact of three million untimely deaths in the last year. If you are willing, pray this prayer with me:
Christ Our King,
Our world is overtaken by unexpected calamity, and by a host of attending fears, worries, and insecurities.
We witness suffering, confusion, and hardship multiplied around us, and we find ourselves swept up in these same anxieties and troubles, dismayed by so many uncertainties.
Now we turn to you, O God, in this season of our common distress.
Be merciful, O Christ, to those who suffer, to those who worry, to those who grieve, to those who are threatened or harmed in any way by this upheaval. Let your holy compassions be active throughout the world even now—tending the afflicted, comforting the brokenhearted, and bringing hope to many who are hopeless.
Use even these hardships to woo our hearts nearer to you, O God.
This is a portion of a prayer from the book Every Moment Holy: Volume 2 by Douglas McKelvey. The entire prayer is called A Liturgy for a Time of Widespread Suffering and is available for free. I will have more to say about this wonderful book in a future letter.
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Explore the Scriptures 📖
Professor Alex Kirk gives us a quick exposition of a weird chapter of scripture: Proverbs 30. Alex argues that the author (Agur) is using hyperbole and sarcasm to draw our attention to the results of foolish and sinful behavior. He then points our attention to Jesus, who may or may not allude to a passage from this chapter, and certainly embodies the “vindication of humility” that Alex argues is the ultimate point of this passage.
Challenge Your Brain 🧠
One of the most controversial and confusing arguments for God’s existence is the ontological argument. Michael Jones of Inspiring Philosophy presents one of the most accessible introductions I’ve seen. It still won’t be easy, and it’s probably not an argument you’d use in casual conversation, but it is one of the most interesting arguments for God’s existence out there and worth knowing.
Living This Christian Life 🤴👸
Many of us believe that we just need self-confidence to be successful. John Piper explains why this is not a biblical perspective, and what is truly the most important virtue for our eternal success: joyous humility. If God condescended to become man for our salvation, not because of any good we had done, but because of love, and if the God-man washed his disciples’ feet to show us how we ought to relate to one another (John 13:1-20), then humility must be key to our lives. Piper expertly unpacks and applies this for us.
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Matt McCullough starts with how God speaks of his choice of Israel—not because there was anything intrinsically great about them—as a launching point for talking about why God loves his church and the people in it. Righteousness matters, but God doesn’t require righteousness to love us; instead, he is dedicated to making us righteous through his salvation.
Christians often describe God’s love as unconditional. And that’s true. God loves his people despite their sin against him. He loves them before they love him back, and before there’s anything in them worthy of his love. Thanks be to God, that’s all true.
But his love doesn’t stop there. It gets far better than that. The Bible tells us God loves his people in Christ. In love the Father sends his Son to take on himself what his people deserve—the unrighteousness that God does not love and is bound to punish. That’s why Christ died. But in Christ, God’s people also take on what he deserves—the perfect, steadfast, unending love of God for his righteous Son.
The article is based on McCullough’s book, which I have not read, but can be found here.
Consider Another Perspective 🤔
Evangelical Christians are among the least likely people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, with as many as 46% saying they probably won’t get it. That near 50/50 split means that we should be both careful and charitable in how we discuss it. Cards on the table, I have received the vaccine, I believe that people should choose to get the vaccine, and I feel concerned about the number of Christians who will not. As Christians of sound mind and good character disagree on this topic, we need to disagree well.
Professor Sean McDowell interviews Professor of Christian Ethics Scott Rae about the vaccine and asks him a variety of questions. There are few people more capable of discussing the ethics of this vaccine. A few of the questions discussed:
- Is the vaccine the mark of the beast?
- Is the vaccine linked to aborted fetal tissue?
- People say “trust the science,” but aren’t Christianity and science at odds (for example, with creation)?
- Should we question the profit motive of these drug corporations?
- Should the government or organizations require vaccination?
- Should we be concerned whether this vaccine will cause cancer, infertility, or something else in the future?
If you’ve considered these questions or others, I encourage you to take a listen.
Best with a Cup of Tea ☕️
In this lengthy article, Ana Siljak draws together comparisons between evangelical purity culture, our response to the current pandemic, and our response to racism by tracing a thread of moralizing through looking inward, rather than outward. Allow me to quote an extended portion of Ana’s piece:
Perhaps one of the central failings of evangelical purity culture has been its inconsistent and weak answer to the central question of purity: why? Perhaps the promoters of purity culture might have paid more attention to symbolism. After all, how is sex like dirt on sticky tape? And why would virginity ever be represented by unchewed gum? Especially in its simplest forms, purity culture seems to rely on a kind of instinctive feeling that sex is contaminating, so the less of it the better. More recently, a stronger emphasis has been placed on the far more important biblical message that purity is part of God’s plan. Our bodies are not our own, we must keep them pure “for God.” But again, it is important to ask why. Is it simply that cleanliness is next to godliness – is virtue simply a kind of old-fashioned pulling up of one’s skirts lest they touch the mud? Does this not get everything exactly backward?
Lust is a sin, wrote the Russian philosopher Vladimir Soloviev, because it is comparable to necrophilia. A prostitute, for instance, is never desired as a full human being – body, soul, and mind – but is reduced to dead flesh used for someone’s pleasure. The sin of lust is objectification, treating another human being as an object, a means to an end. There is perhaps no better way to understand the essence of all of our sexual evils, ancient and modern: adultery, sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and rape.
Therefore, when I struggle against lust, against “impure” thoughts and desires, I do so not for myself, nor for the sake of my moral virtue. I do it for the other person, the unique human being with divine significance, whom I might desire, but whom I should not objectify, harass, or abuse. Is this not at the heart of 1 Thessalonians 4:6, a verse so often cited by evangelical purity activists? One should “abstain from sexual immorality” so as not to “transgress and wrong his brother in this matter.” Marriage may well be the best way to avoid the abuse and neglect that sexual promiscuity often brings, but marriage by no means concludes the struggle to treat others as ends in themselves.
In Ana’s view, purity culture failed in that it reduces the other to a temptation to be avoided at all costs, instead of a divine image bearer to be loved through abstention. In a similar way, she draws comparisons with a desire for purity in the pandemic by avoiding our neighbor, and with a desire to introspect on our own racist thoughts or actions (or lack thereof) instead of drawing into communion with our neighbors who do not look like us. This article certainly gave me something to ponder, and I suspect it will do the same for you.
Keep Your Mind on Things Above
I will be praying for you this week.
May the peace that surpasses understanding be on your hearts and minds this week,