The last couple weeks have stirred up a lot of emotions and responses in all of us. Depending on your temperament you’re likely to respond in a way that might not always be in line with reality and might not always be helpful to the people around you. Here are 3 kinds of responses we should seek to avoid during this time. Honestly assess yourself and your tendency, so that you can more readily go to God in prayer and love your neighbor well.
The Scoffer – The scoffer says things like “It’s no big deal” and “Everyone’s over-reacting!” They cynically laugh at the current situation. They have their mind made up on the matter. They will keep scoffing and keep doing what they want to do with little regard for anyone else. Martin Luther had this person in mind when he wrote, “They are much too rash and reckless, tempting God and disregarding everything which might counteract death and the plague. They disdain the use of medicines; they do not avoid places and persons infected by the plague, but lightheartedly make sport of it and wish to prove how independent they are.”1 The besetting sin of the scoffer is pride (Prov.21:24). They see themselves as right, and everyone else as wrong. As a result, they are prone to offend other people. Where the scoffer is present, there will be division, frustration, and ridicule of everyone who doesn’t see it their way.
The Panicker – The panicker says “The sky is falling!” Driven by the impulse of fear, they recklessly go around seeking to control their situation. They take tomorrow’s anxieties and live them out today. They go around stirring up fear in others and behaving in ways that force others to frantically respond to the situation. It only takes one hoarder to convince the next person that they should probably hoard as well. Survival of the fittest, right? Every man for himself! The besetting sin of the panicker is the idolatry of control. Idolatry is the granting of god-like status to a particular object or state of being. If you idolize control, you will panic when your sense of control seems threatened. This is what causes people to buy 100 rolls of toilet paper. Is it rational? No. Does it make them feel a level of control? Yes. The result is others are deprived. The panicker will deprive others of peace of mind, and even the necessities of things like toilet paper and canned goods. Where the panicker is present, there will be increased panic, tension, and striving for control.
The Shamer – The shamer says things like, “Can you believe that _(insert name)_ isn’t self-quaranting like I am?” They call out people on social media for not social distancing according to proper standards. They chastise the man who hasn’t quite shaken his habit of shaking hands. The shamer polices everyone, casting judgments and shame upon all of those who are not meeting their standard of response to the current situation. The sin of the shamer is self-righteousness. Like the Pharisees in John’s Gospel, they cast the defendant in the center of the room, and hurl their accusations (John 8:2-11). From eye-rolls to caustic comments, they stand in judgment above the rest. The result is that people feel marginalized and isolated. The shamer causes people to walk on egg shells, and fear that if they so much as cough or sneeze they’ll receive a finger-pointing lecture. Where the shamer is present, there will be retreat and loneliness at a time when we need lots of encouragement and support.
How can we get along in a time like this? How can we love our neighbor as ourselves? Here are 3 antidotes for whatever your default posture might be:
1. Be Quick To Listen and Slow to Speak (James 1:19)
No matter what we think about the current situation, the truth is that we are all being impacted by it. There are real fears that people have. People are concerned for their loved ones, particularly their elderly loved ones. People are concerned about their finances and work prospects. Many are feeling anxious, lonely, and confused. Scoffing accomplishes nothing. At best, it makes the scoffer feel strong. It does nothing for the good of those who are burdened by the current crisis. Instead, we should be quick to listen and slow to speak. We should seek the news sources that are reliable and factual. We should listen to these reports with unbiased ears, desiring nothing but the truth. We should be quick to listen to the concerns of others. The anxious worker who’s been laid off isn’t in need of pessimistic comments about government response. Instead, they should be met with a person whose ear is ready to listen, whose mouth is ready to speak words of comfort, and whose hands are ready to help in any way they can.
2. Substitute Fear with Faith (Matthew 6:25-34)
God knows what we need. He feeds the birds of the air and clothes the lilies of the field. How much more will He take care of us. Fear will cause us to panic. It will cause us to eagerly strive after things as if God is powerless to help. Jesus said that those who don’t know God live this way. But for those of us who know God as our Almighty Father, we can seek Him and know He will provide for all of our needs. We must replace fear with faith. This doesn’t mean that we don’t take responsibility or that we throw caution to the wind. Instead it means that we recognize that we don’t have as much control as we think. But we do know the God who does. We can trust Him, pray to Him, and let Him lead us away from fear into faith. We must replace our panic with the promises of God. Here’s one of many promises – “…seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things [food, drink, clothing, etc.] will be provided for you.”
3. Let Your Speech Always Be Gracious (Colossians 4:6)
Just because we should be slow to speak, doesn’t mean that we should not speak. Yet, our tone is vitally important. The apostle Paul says, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” In our collective effort to slow the spread of this virus out of love for our neighbors, we will inevitably have to give soft rebukes and challenges to those who might be frivolous in their behavior. But we should crucify anything in us that causes us to look down upon others as ignorant or foolish. We should speak in ways that are kind and discerning. In addition, we should take the posture of assuming the best in others (1 Cor.13:7). Just because someone might not hold the same cautionary standards as you, doesn’t mean that they are wreaking havoc on the community spreading their germs! We should give people the benefit of the doubt, and seek to lovingly respond if needed.
In all of this, we should seek to model for others what we would like to see in everyone else. Let’s be thoughtful, kind, and always trusting in our faithful God.
- Martin Luther – “Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague” (dated 1527)