From ‘World in Union’ to ‘Every Man for Himself’
This has been writ epically large with the death of George Floyd.
On a far less consequential, but nonetheless revealing scale I’ve witnessed it in my town as the extraordinary weather the UK has enjoyed brought tens of thousands of people to our beaches – thousands of whom left mounds of rubbish on the sand, while obnoxious jet-skiers made life misery (and dangerous) for other water users, and fishermen cast lines where they would inevitably become entangled in swimmers and paddle boarders. It was dog eat dog for a parking space and social distancing a fanciful memory. Not so much #MeToo or #BlackLivesMatter as #MeFirst and #ImTheOnlyOneWhoMatters.
This perhaps gives us an insight into the longer term post-corona impact and the challenges it will bring. My sense is that we are going to see a classic Gaussian curve: around twenty percent of people will be too locked in anxiety to emerge from their homes, even when any risk from the virus has been demonstrated to be essentially nil. But a corresponding twenty percent will respond to increased freedom by behaving in reckless and selfish ways and pursuing as many experiences as they possibly can. The sixty percent in the middle will have to learn how to live with the outliers, and it won’t be comfortable.
This will operate at a societal level with, on the one hand, demands upon mental health services ratcheting ever up while on the other crime and antisocial behaviour spirals. It will affect the church, too.
Those of us who are in pastoral ministry will need to learn to handle this divide. It will be demanding pastoral work to care for and encourage those who are fearful of emerging from lockdown. And it will be demanding pastoral work to challenge and win those who bail out of church life because they want to spend every weekend doing something ‘more fun’.
Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonian church are incredibly apt:
And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always strive to do what is good for each other and for everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15 )
Once more, as throughout this crisis, it is time for the church to show her mettle – and to demonstrate to the world what following a Saviour who went to the cross really means. Courage and forgiveness. We’re going to need both of those.