If the Coronavirus pandemic highlights anything, it is that to be human is to be interdependent, finite, and dependent. This virus has thrown a tiny spanner into humanity’s project of self-procured immortality, independence, and self-reliance.
John Donne’s adage ‘no man is an island’ easily quickly fades into the past in this fast-paced technologically advancing world. Surely, large stores and supermarkets may supply the idea of self-sufficiency as one simply strolls in for self-priced products from anonymous farmers. The self-check-out options mean that one needs not to be acquainted with the supermarket attendant. All you need is your money. Or is it?
Genesis 1 reveals a great deal of interdependence within creation. The sun lights the way for man to walk and work as all the stars set seasons in synch (1:14-19). The ground from which God made beasts is one upon which they walk and find food (1:24, 30). God makes humankind from mud, signifying his interdependence with both land, plant, and beasts (2:4-9). Man, himself, will need woman as a suitable helpmeet (2:18).
It is no wonder then that the effects of cancelling many events due to this pandemic ripple. And like the waves from a stone thrown into a pond, the consequences reveal our codependence. Just think of the halt of the English Premier League, for example. Clubs still pay players despite low or no incoming revenue. Televisions like Sky Sports that rely on live games suffer as a result, as adverts drastically reduce. And who wants to subscribe to DSTV without sports?
The result is that someone somewhere must be laid off to balance the books. But what happens to their families then? Yesterday I spoke to a friend who is searching for a new job because she isn’t sure she will have one after this. Do you wonder about how small economies will handle the aftereffects? Me too!
The consequences of shutdowns are substantial precisely because ‘no man is an island.’ What affects one affects all. As Martin Luther King Jr would insist, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” We cannot afford to care less about our neighbour.
Our self-quarantine measures must, at heart, have a love for the neighbour as for self. And this love for the other should extend to our shopping too. The empty supermarket shelves in American stores that reveal panic-based spending also display less consideration for the one who steps in after I stroll out.
For Christians, this is an excellent time to witness, through our care for one another and our neighbours. The confidence we exude in these circumstances can reveal our hope in a God who transcends the Coronavirus. But it also may show a proper understanding of the Genesis creation narrative, as we maintain harmonious codependence. Each Christian will have to choose the avenues available to express this, in service of the person next-door.
The world partly panics because its dream of self-procured immortality and transcendence is checked. Suddenly the virus suggests what we have always suspected but feared to say: death ever closely stares at us. We, of course, have pretended that it lives far from us, that it still has a long journey to reach us. Coronavirus just threw a tiny spanner into these thoughts. And we don’t like it.
Our generation hates any sign of hopeless helplessness. We seek to conquer, to stretch every boundary and imagination. With spacecraft, the sky is no longer the limit. We have harnessed sound and light waves to our advantage and with them broken geographical barriers. Gravity cannot keep us down. But death does, six feet under. To the ground we each return, “for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust, you shall return” (Gen. 3:19).
The Christian, of course, can communicate hope beyond the grave in times like these. Using our harnessed technology, we should tell the world that our help comes from the Lord, ‘who made heaven and earth’ (Ps. 121:2). We do not hold that our finitude is the enemy. To the contrary, we embrace it as what it means to be human.
We are finite in knowledge, unable to know everything, including what pandemic tomorrow holds. We are limited in resources, power, and health. And rather than place our hope in the total removal of these ‘weaknesses’, we boast in them (2 Cor 12:10). In such times of uncertainty, we are only sure of God’s constancy. And because God is unchangeably good and caring, we know that all things will work together for the good of those who trust him (Rom. 8:28).
The certainty of God’s constancy must call us to trust him alone. Genesis 1 reminds us that God made us. We are dependent on him. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). The fast-paced world seeks to run from this, but like a small fish in an aquarium tank, it can only hurt itself trying to escape.
Dependence is a good thing. To be human is to depend on God. Believers can model to the world what it means to not rely on our strength or wisdom in times like these. As we pray and engage, as we trust and rest, the Spirit of God shows himself sovereign over the world’s chaos. As the Spirit hovers over confusion, he creates calm and peace (Gen. 1:2).
Now, Coronavirus will pass, but not before highlighting the fragility of our state. We do not run the world. We are here for a season, with a mandate to manifest God’s goodness. Our purpose is not long-life, independence, or self-sufficiency. Like music, the sweetest melody comes from perfect harmonies as each instrument produces its sound in ideal measure. But as every musician may know, music must be performed as written by the composer.
As such, a delightful destiny belongs only to those who depend on God. For he who made us also defeated death for us. The infinite became finite; the sovereignly free subject to limitations so that in him, we may rise above every consequence of sin— Coronavirus included. In Christ, we are all ‘caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.’ Christians can demonstrate this truth by their love for God and neighbour in this season.