The isolation of late we have all experienced as profound and pervasive. Pandemic separation is compounded by a growing dread that something is unraveling our country, and the helpless frustration many express to me amplifies that isolation even more. Loneliness devastates the human soul. Our current physical detachment from others drives us to find comfort in questionable substitutes from ubiquitous video conferences to robotic companions more sterile and understanding than germ laden unpredictable humans (https://www.timesofisrael.com/research-finds-robot-cuddles-could-fill-void-as-pandemic-makes-touch-taboo/?utm_source=The+Daily+Edition&utm_campaign=daily-edition-2020-06-17&utm_medium=email) What is our response to be as Christ followers?
1) Listen—in researching anything, when possible, go to primary sources. Expand your usual sources. Get past the talking heads on TV and the frenetic fluff offered by social media except to get a general feel for mood. Listen with reflection, read deeply, take time to hear from others past just the facts. Listen with eyes, body language, and heart as well as with ears. Listen not only to present voices but past ones as well (that may mean reading something like Mark Noll’s God and Race in American Politics: A Short History). My practice has been to find someone outside my usual circles and say teach me.
2) Lament—Lamenting is not complaining; it is taking my sorrow to God when I can’t find answers, and He’s not talking. The Psalms are rife with lament. God has a really big chest, and He’d rather have you beat on it and shout at Him in honest rage or authentic frustration than pretend all is joy and peace around you. Lament in this sense becomes an act of worship (see N.T. Wright’s article, https://time.com/5808495/coronavirus-christianity/ or Psalms 6, 10, 13, and especially 22). The default is to let this drag us into depression and darkness. For the non-pastor reader, understand this is especially true for pastors. Those who proclaim the gospel of Christ and don’t get the desired results Sunday to Sunday, are confronted with a current situation not covered in any playbook or seminary class, and do #1 above daily (which these days is filled with pain and anguish) can slide into this mental desolation very easily. Trust me on this one. Lament to God is intensely personal and takes time to come to the surface.
3) Love, not Loathe—If I don’t find answers, I know my prime directive from God is to love Him and others, especially those I find unlovely (Mt. 5.46-47). It would be much simpler and easier to rage about certain situations or people groups, and to increase my animosity and distance from them in righteous arrogance. Lament should lead not to a sharper hatred for enemies but to brokenness in my spirit at the brokenness of this world, and heartfelt petition of God to use me to mend brokenness in His name. My Lord washed the feet of all the disciples including Judas; can I sit down and lovingly hear out a person’s criticism or their laundry list of grievances, and find a way not to distance myself from them but to serve?
4) Light, not Heat—In Philippians 4 Paul shares in v. 6 we are to take our worries to God, (see #2 Lament above), in v. 7 we realize we get His presence, not necessarily answers, and in v. 8 we are to dwell on our incarnation of His character and fulfillment of His revealed will, to love in His name. The world increasingly sees the church as either irrelevant or adding to the problem more than being a solution. We need to add less heat to the already growing conflagration, and offer more light. Whether it’s a new virus, an issue persistent since our country’s founding, or ramifications of our Supreme Court’s decisions, we are called to be salt and light. May our churches shed the light of His truth in love (Ephesians 4.15) to the lovely and unlovely alike this month