Thursday, April 30, 2020

Church In The Time Of The Virus: Thinking With Both Hands (Episode 10)

When churches suspended their weekly brick and mortar meetings, I decided to take some time to address online what it looks like for the church to be the church in times like this. Thus, The Church In The Time Of The Virus. I began posting this on my church's Facebook page several weeks ago; since then, I have had some thoughtful conversations sparked by some of the issues I addressed. Because of that - and because I like wrestling with important ideas - each post is going to follow this format:
  • Video
  • Transcript
  • Reflections
The beautiful thing about the reflections part is that I can constantly update it, so the conversation can continue! You are welcome to offer helpful comments in the comment section and be a part of this conversation/archival record (as local and modest as it is).

(Read and Watch Episode 1: Introduction)
(Read and Watch Episode 2:Fearless, Not Fearful)
(Read and Watch Episode 3: Bold, But Not Foolhardy)
(Read and Watch Episode 4: Sacrificial Of Self, Not Others)
(Read and Watch Episode 5: Faith-fullness Involves Trust)
(Read and Watch Episode 6: Faithfulness Requires Humble Obedience)
(Read and Watch Episode 7: The Church's History During Plagues)
(Read and Watch Episode 8: Thinking With Both Hands)
(Read and Watch Episode 9: Spurgeon And The Plague Of London)
(Read and Watch Episode 11: A Few Thoughts Have Been Brewing)
(Read and Watch Episode 12: Is COVID -19 A Judgment From God)
(Read and Watch Episode 13: Romans 12-14 - Coronavirus Version)
(Episode 14: Dear American Christian)
(Episode 15: Civil (Dis)Obedience)

Episode 10: Thinking With Both Hands


I recently finished reading a book called Walking In The Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words Of Jesus Can Change Your Life, by Lois Tverberg (tuh-VER-berg). My wife recently reminded me of a chapter called “Thinking With Both Hands.” 

Remember Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof? “On the one hand…. …on the other hand…on the other hand.” This is called the method of give and take, shakla v’tarya (in Hebrew).  Often two points of view are left unresolved and simply accepted as a paradox. Here are some examples the Jewish audience on the Old and New Testament would have balanced:

  • On the one hand, God is loving and just and in control; on the other hand he allows tragedy, suffering and injustice to take place. 
  • On the one hand, God is everywhere, but on the other hand, at certain times he's present in a unique way like when his glory filled the temple, and in certain times he seems to suggest he withdraws his presence in some way. 
  • Exodus states that, on the one hand, no one can see God and live, and yet, on the other hand, a few chapters later 70 elders see God on Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:9 33:20)
  • On the one hand, Jesus is fully human; on the other, he’s fully God. 

The Hebrew mind was willing to accept the “give and take” on both sides of a seeming paradox. The goal was not resolution; the goal was contemplation.

Since before the time of Jesus, the rabbis had weighed the laws so that in a situation where there was tension, the weightier law took precedence. They described the law in terms of being light and heavy (kal and hamur), and the rabbis debated on how to prioritize them. 

For instance, one principle is the preservation of life (pikuach nephesh). Jesus himself weighed the laws having to do with this principle (Luke 6:9; 13:14). The rabbis recognized the pre-eminent importance that the Torah placed on human life far more than another law codes; The Torah itself (Deuteronomy 30:16) says the law was given an order to bring life (which is one reason capital punishment is almost unheard of in Jewish history). Jewish thinkers concluded that all laws except a few should be set aside to save a human life. 

  • On the one hand, don't work on the Sabbath. On the other hand,  Jewish doctors and nurses will work on the Sabbath because they may potentially save a life. 
  • On the one hand, don’t eat or drink on Yom Kippur. On the other hand, if an illness threatens your life, you are supposed to eat on Yom Kippur. 
  • On the one hand, you shouldn't lie. On the other hand, if you are hiding Jews in Nazi Germany, you should lie to soldiers in order to save their lives. Read more about this in Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place.

Jesus established the bottom line in all these tensions when he summarized the law and the prophets with command to love God and others. As Tverberg summarizes,
“This is a wise word for us in terms of discerning what to do when two commands complete with each other. If you must choose one over the other, choose the one that shows the most love.”
My daughter-in-law wrote a fantastic version of this last week in reference to the “give and take” on the issues of protecting physical health vs. protecting economic health in light of the pandemic. 
The problem, friends, is that this issue weighs the physical health of the people against the financial stability of the people. "We the people" have different priorities, routines, problems, and concerns. We've all been forced to adapt in different ways, leading to more individualized priorities and/or concerns. The two extremes are both valid concerns. 
1) Physical Health prioritized: Those in favor of continued #quarantine are worried about the health of the nation. They care about keeping people safe from the coronavirus. They fear losing people they love because people won't #stayhomestaysafe. Additionally, they're worried that this whole situation will be lengthened and worsened if people don't listen to the government, or that a "round two" will happen if we open the economy and move freely too early. 
2) Financial Stability prioritized: Those in favor of #openmichigan are worried about the economy of the nation. They care about keeping individuals working (thus financially stable - maybe even fed) and keeping small businesses in business. They fear a recession we can't crawl out of easily. Additionally, they're worried that the government might use this as a power grab and not restore everyone's rights fully when this does end. 
The important thing to realize is that someone prioritizing one view doesn't mean they don't care about the other. Goodness, everyone must see that both are important! But maybe losing that job means not being able to feed and provide for your family for much longer, so s/he needs the economy to open for your family to be safe. Or maybe you know that your spouse gets sick easy, so your concern about their health outweighs your personal finances, so you lean towards extending lockdown for your family to be safe. 
There are so many stats and issues and complaints going both ways, "proving" the other side is totally wrong. But both sides matter. That's why there's so much confusion and lack of unity. We see other countries and states taking extreme measures one way or the other, because both are important considerations. 
I've seen so many people post the last few days about deleting friends over different views supporting one argument or the other. But do you know why they lean one way or the other? Have you seen their savings account, or their fear over losing friends/relatives? If you can't disagree with someone and still be friends with them, you're missing something. 
My point is this: Please have grace with others and attempt to have intelligent conversations that remain civil. Please stop hating and belittling the other side's concerns, because they're also valid. Health and stability are both important. Please seek to understand that before you engage. Maybe consider not engaging. But please stop hating.
Bottom line:
  •  If you must choose one over the other, are you doing it because you truly believe it is the most generous act of love?  
  • If you disagree with someone about which side gets priority, are you disagreeing in way that reflects the love that motivates you - and the love for the person across from you – and the love for those impacted by both sides of the equation? 

I don’t know the answers to what we should do right now. I’m glad I’m not the one who has to decide. Meanwhile, we can contribute to the overall amount of wisdom, truth and grace in the world by “thinking with both hands” – hands filled with humility, love, and grace. 


My next episode will explore this further. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that "thinking with one hand" has not only stunted our ability to pursue wisdom, it's been destroying relationships. We - the"new humanity" (Ephesians 2:15)  placed in the world as ambassadors of Christ and His Kingdom, must do better. We must. 

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