Saturday, January 15, 2022

Fatalism vs. Faith and COVID-19

A fellow was stuck on his rooftop in a flood. He was praying to God for help. Soon a man in a rowboat came by and the fellow shouted to the man on the roof, “Jump in, I can save you.” The stranded fellow shouted back, “No, it’s OK, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me.” So the rowboat went on.

Then a motorboat came by. “The fellow in the motorboat shouted, “Jump in, I can save you.” To this the stranded man said, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.” So the motorboat went on.

Then a helicopter came by and the pilot shouted down, “Grab this rope and I will lift you to safety.” To this the stranded man again replied, “No thanks, I’m praying to God and he is going to save me. I have faith.” So the helicopter reluctantly flew away.

Soon the water rose above the rooftop and the man drowned. He went to Heaven. He finally got his chance to discuss this whole situation with God, at which point he exclaimed, “I had faith in you but you didn’t save me, you let me drown. I don’t understand why!”

To this God replied, “I sent you a rowboat and a motorboat and a helicopter, what more did you expect?”

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I continue to see lots of memes posted that say something like, “I don't fear Covid, because God decides when it's my time to die.”

At its best reading, this kind of meme could be trying to say that in the midst of all kinds of things in life that have the potential to kill us, we Christians still go about our life without constantly worrying about it because a) we believe that God oversees history and at minimum permits life to unfold as it does, and b) the Christian hope of life everlasting doesn’t put all our life eggs in this present basket. As far as Christian theology goes, fair enough. I’m tracking. Death is really hard on those who remain, but not on those who move on into a heavenly eternity.

However, it often seems to means that someone is not willing to take any steps to avoid getting COVID (or to help other people not get it) because in some sense it just doesn't matter. If God controls the start and stop point of our lives, we have 0% control over either incident. Therefore, no action we take or choice we make will change anything. Que sera, sera.

Now, I am sympathetic to at least some of the reasons people have for wondering what kind of political and medical machinations are going on behind the scenes or questioning just how safe and helpful every proposed solution is. Neither our government nor Big Pharma have a track record of consistent trustworthiness, though lack of consistency is not the same as never right. Click on this link to read more on this.

The problem I have is that the stance (as stated in the meme above) is not one Christians take consistently.

  • They still look both ways before crossing a street.
  • They drive with their eyes open instead of shut, and with a seatbelt on.
  • They wouldn't skydive or bungee jump without testing the parachute.
  • They will turn the farm equipment off before fixing it.
  • They have guns so they can defend themselves from being attacked and maybe killed.
  • They take pills, vitamins or supplements to enhance their health.
  • They visit a doctor (of some sort) when they have an illness.
  • They might even alter their diet so that they are healthier and…live longer.
  • If they have a medical emergency, they go to medical professionals for treatment.
  • They don't touch live wires.
  • They wouldn't try to hand feed lions on a safari.
  • They're careful about the food they eat, making sure it's not spoiled, rancid or full of salmonella.
  • They don't drink water from a pond while hiking.
  • When they back up in a parking lot, they make sure no one is behind them so they don't run them over.
  • When they build their house, they would like it up to code so it is safe.

In all these examples, my only point is that we believe, over and over in our life, there are things within our power to affect or even control, and that we have a responsibility as people with mind, will, and emotions - all given by God for a reason - to make wise choices as life unfolds. We are not fatalists. As Christians, we don't see this as contradictory to faith. We see this as wisdom. Isn’t that what the whole book of Proverbs is about? Choices matter.

We are constantly not accepting the circumstances we are given (how many of us wear glasses or contacts?); we are constantly intervening to change things (diet choices or supplements), as if our free choices and actions matter. We do this over and over even while recognizing that God is sovereign. In Christian theology, God has a declarative and permissive will, and an awful lot of what unfolds in life falls under the category of things God permits. Those things He permits often involve our free choices.

If God controls the timeline of our lives such that nothing we do matters in terms of the length (and I am guessing the quality) of our life or anyone else’s, what are we doing with any boundaries at all? Why would we not cast caution to the wind and ignore anything that has to do with safety?

Martin Luther had a phrase for that when he lived through the plague: “tempting God.” It wasn’t a good thing. Luther wrote in a letter about how he believed Christians should respond in the time of pandemic:

“If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God."

One can be full of faith and prudence simultaneously.

One can trust God and exercise caution at the same time.

One can believe God heals diseases and try to avoid those diseases at the same time.

They aren’t contradictory.

Let’s not start a new theology of sickness – or free will and the value of responsibility - because of COVID-19. Maybe the government screwed the whole thing up; maybe we are being manipulated; maybe this whole thing has been handled terribly by everyone we had hoped would do it right. None of that should matter to our theology.

God didn’t change during COVID-19. Whatever was true before is still true. If God allowed your free will to have an impact on your life before, then that’s still the case.

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"Don't lean on a shovel and pray for a hole." - Tommy Nelson

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