Every time I wash my hands these days, I recite either our Lord’s Prayer or the Apostle’s Creed. This ensures that I make it past twenty seconds, of course, but it also reminds me of what is most important. As I do so, I keep thinking about the striking contrasts between the transience and fragility of what we often do and the steadfast faithfulness and reliability of what God has done, is doing, and promises to do.
Here at the Henry Center we are “going dark” with respect to live events. This is as it should be, for we want to love our neighbors well. Along with the rest of the country, we are shutting down all nonessential work. But there is a sense in which the kind of work to which God has called us is more essential than ever. After all, we exist to “advance Christian wisdom,” and our current project is focused on the intersection of theology and science. If ever there was a time for followers of Jesus to be seekers of wisdom and engaged with the natural sciences, surely it is now. For “now,”—this time—is a time when the idols of the age are being exposed even as people are turning from them and longing for something more stable and more meaningful.
What do I mean by the “idols of our time?” I mean the false deities of the modern West. I mean those “principalities and powers” that so easily seduce and then so fatally ensnare us. Take, for instance, the radical autonomy and rugged individualism that is valued so highly and indeed is often taken for granted—the notion that “what I do is my business and only impacts me.” Seeing the exponential curve of disease spread, can we ever really believe this again? How did we ever believe it? Or consider our tendency to trust in the stability and security of the American economy. Is it not being exposed as fragile? Think of the reliance on health care systems, or the unreflective confidence in our own resources that so often runs so deep that it goes “What I do is my business and only impacts me.” Seeing the exponential curve of disease spread, can we ever really believe this again? How did we ever believe it? unnoticed. More directly relevant to our work here at the Creation Project, consider the widespread cultural commitment to scientism, the belief that only the natural sciences offer “real” or “objective” knowledge and the corresponding deep and implicit trust in the natural sciences to bring health and safety and meaning to our lives.
Daily, we are tempted to place our trust here; we are lulled into thinking that what we do only matters to us and won’t be a threat to the most vulnerable among us. We slide, sometimes imperceptibly, into placing our trust in our own resources. Almost as if by osmosis, we trust science and technology to fix us. And then, when we start to see the fragility of it all, we begin to worry, and then panic.
This is not a time for Christians to panic. It is a time to seek wisdom, to ask how we might best love God and neighbor. It is a time to reject the myth of radical autonomy and instead to take personal responsibility even more seriously. A time to look for ways to be good stewards of the resources with which we have been so generously blessed. It is time to reject scientism, but to do all that we can to engage and encourage good science and the wonderful scientists and health care workers who are on the front lines in the fight to protect us all. Like all idols, scientism is simultaneously a fierce taskmaster and a fraudulent deity. Actual science, on the other hand, can be a wonderful tool with which to better love God and neighbor.
And this is a time for love of God and neighbor. This is a time to be reminded that the “Creator of heaven and earth” is also the one Jesus taught us to address as “our Father,” the “Almighty” parent who exercises loving sovereignty over creation. A time to know that God has not held himself aloof from us, but instead entered a world not only of filth and viruses but also of hatred and cruelty, that this God became incarnate and not only “suffered under Pontius Pilate” and was “crucified, dead, and buried” but also “rose on the third day” and has conquered our last enemy. This is a time to know and proclaim that love—the love of the Triune God who is our Creator, Savior, and Sanctifier—is stronger than death.A time to remember that we are not our own, but have been “bought with a price,” and that the Holy Spirit is with God’s people now and always. This is a time to know and proclaim that love—the love of the Triune God who is our Creator, Savior, and Sanctifier—is stronger than death.
This is a time to proceed with the quiet confidence and good cheer that comes from knowing that we are held in God’s hand. This is not a time for panic or despair; it isn’t a time for hoarding or profiteering or “just looking out for me and mine.” This is a time to live with prudence but also with generosity. To sacrifice, to put ourselves at risk not at the expense of others but for the sake of others. To offer to deliver food and supplies to those who lack them, to seek out and encourage the lonely and anxious. It is a time to thank our Creator for good science and to encourage those who pursue it. A time for all manner of small deeds done in quiet, done for our neighbors in such a way that the only sane and rational explanation is an unshakeable confidence in the power and goodness of God. People who live by such hope and confidence expose the impotence of idols, and they reflect the goodness of God.
The time of the coronavirus is a time to turn from the idols that tempt and then torment us. It is a time to see that they are not only fake, but also impotent. It is a time to turn from them and toward God. It is a time to love the Triune God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves. It is time to remind ourselves of these basic facts again and again—maybe even every time we wash our hands.