I think we all want to believe that someone can save us from our fate; perhaps we even need to believe this in order to carry on with our everyday lives. Facing the reality that we suffer and we die, is too much to bear most of the time; and the truth of our powerlessness in the face of death—ultimately—is something we’d like to forget. So, we create endless ways to distract ourselves from this truth. But we still maintain hope that somebody can save us from this fate; since we know that we can’t save ourselves.
Some of us may trust in science to save us, some of us may trust in God to save us; and some of us may even trust that science is a gift from God that will save us. (Though I believe that science and God can work hand in hand, through the agency of man, this isn’t the point I want to make. I’m not arguing here for one, or against the other.) Rather, I want to make the simpler point, that each of us tend to act upon a faith in man, or in God, but not both. In our decisions and attitudes of daily life, we choose to have faith in either man or in God, but not in both equally. Perhaps we have a bit of faith in both, but one or the other will be ascendant when push comes to shove, or when we are gripped by the fear of death.
Matters of life and death tend to bring this to the surface; but in most cases this is a private matter. It arises when we confront our own mortality; when we discover we have cancer, or when we are in an accident, for instance. But rarely is this confrontation experienced simultaneously by a whole society in a public way. Rarely do we collectively face an existential threat together, as a nation, or as a civilization. But here we are, confronting a virus that has been posed as an existential threat to each of us, as members of this civilization, and we are all confronting this threat to our existence simultaneously, and publicly. Because of this virus, we are each being confronted by our own mortality in a very public way, with very interesting results.
The fact that we are having very different responses to the fears brought on by the pandemic is not surprising. The fact that we don’t have empathy for one another’s responses however, is a testament to our narcissism. We want everyone to be like us; to see things only in the way we see them. And we leverage guilt and shame in an attempt to force others to act in conformance with our way. But death is a private matter, and the manner of facing our own mortality is not something to be prescribed by others, no matter how frightened we may be.
I am reminded of a passage from scripture in which King David is given a choice to put his immediate fate into the hands of man or God. He responds this way: “Please let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
If you were asked the same question today, in relation to our current pandemic, how might you answer?
There are so many ways to frame our current dilemmas related to this pandemic, and our responses to it. Yet, I believe a fundamental aspect of our problems are a matter of where we put our faith, which determines our responses.
We may trust the experts, and thus follow their directions to the letter, hoping they have the answers. We can cite past medical breakthroughs to support us in this: penicillin and polio vaccines as two obvious examples. Or we may distrust the experts, recognizing that humans often have competing motives and objectives. And there are countless examples of experts pretending to have our best interest at heart, but who were only serving their own economic, political or other personal objectives instead.
If we want to trust in man, we will likely ignore the dangers of doing so, and hope for the best. If we don’t want to trust in man, we may still recognize previous medical triumphs, but prefer to cautiously wait for more information to assess the situation more clearly, and protect ourselves from the possible malfeasance of other men.
In both cases, those with the opposite opinion will likely see the other as naïve, careless and foolhardy. Or worse, they will see the other as a danger to themselves and to others. This is the strange new phenomena of our collective, shared, and public confrontation with our mortality. The stakes have become quite high.
Yet, for those who may trust in God and his mercy, above man. We may want to live our lives—still with caution in the face of the virus—but also with freedom. We may prefer to trust in natural defenses, our own body’s ability to fight disease, to build natural resistance, the benefits of sun and wind and a good diet, sleep, exercise and the natural components of a healthy life. While protecting those obviously at greatest risk due to age or other underlying conditions. For those who don’t trust God, either because they don’t believe he exists, or because he allows suffering and death, they may distrust that God has our best interests in mind.
For Christians, like myself, we might say that we trust in both man and God. For others, I imagine they might say they trust in neither man nor God. In any case, whether we trust in one or the other, both, or neither, I believe that this issue of where we put our trust is at the very heart of our differences with respect to this virus, and it influences how we respond to all of the myriad issues revolving around this pandemic. It is a subject worth considering, and reflecting upon your own position; and it would provide a great social benefit if each of us allowed others to do the same. Matters of life and death are very personal concerns; I think we owe one another the respect, privacy and time to grapple with these things in the way that each of us need. In the end, this would be the triumph of our love over our fear.