Isn’t it strange how quickly the world can change? It changed in the winter of 2020 with news reports of a new disease in a place far away on the opposite side of the globe. But within weeks it wasn’t just there, it was here too. A sinister threat with the power to harm health and take life; unknown, unseen, and unsettling.
It is hard to fight something that you cannot see. It is hard to avoid something that manifests itself within the bodies of our families and friends. Cut off contact with other people, isolate ourselves from each other, was the command of those who took control, though they did not seem to know much about what they were fighting.
We were told stories and shown pictures of what the virus does and how it had to be faced. Our heroes became the health workers, their uniform plastic gowns, masks and visors. Each day a body count, casualties struggling for breath, confused senses and worried minds. The bereaved, broken by the pain and trauma borne. This virus was evil and this was war.
Summertime a year later and the war wears on. The tide has turned with the development and deployment of millions of doses of vaccine. Our mood lifts as restrictions are released. Then out of the blue someone close tests positive, or we see a second red line develop on the test strip and what was ‘out there’ becomes something that is ‘in here’.
Facing an unseen enemy is one thing, realising that it may now be in me, is another. I become a hazard to others and a risk to myself. I am the one who poses danger, who is unsafe and the one to be avoided because of what may happen if I touch, or cough, or breathe. But I am also the one who is in jeopardy myself, what is inside me, has the capacity to cause me disease and curtail my life.
As I ponder these things, I am reminded of other pan-world events from history. Conflicts fought, the cause of so many deaths and such suffering. We remember the lives lost, ‘lest we forget’ the lessons learned, but what these lessons are, few remember.
One lesson is: what causes war is not that which is ‘far away’, but that which is ‘inside’. The Nazi party members, the Marxist Soviet, Cambodian and Chinese revolutionaries, the ISIS fighters, all human beings like me and you. A fact that reminds us that though we may all have the capacity to be heroes, there is something in each of us that can turn us into monsters too. Scientists have confirmed through well-conducted psychological scenarios that ordinary people have the capability of inflicting pain on others, and if we are honest, we perhaps know this to be true.
For those who have read the opening pages of the Christian Bible, this idea is nothing new. There we find an explanation of how the Godlike goodness of human hearts has become damaged, disfigured by our desire to determine our own destiny. We are this amazing mixture of the capacity for great good and invidious evil wrapped up into our individual beings. One thing in all this, however, is certain: extreme circumstances, life’s most challenging moments, change us. They bring out the heroic in some and the cowardly in others. They develop our characters for good or for evil. They can make us or break us and sometimes do both.
What makes the difference I would suggest, is where we turn to for help, where we look for strength and direction. The Bible, not only the source of the diagnosis of the human condition, points also to a solution to the human dilemma. The one who made us in his image and loves us even in our brokenness and weakness is also the one who can save us from ourselves. Where some other world views impose their ideologies on others, the Christian story starts in the hearts and lives of individuals with the recognition that the conflict that needs resolution, the rupture that needs repair, runs right through the centre of every human heart.
The Bible’s story tells us that the God who made us was moved by the pain and suffering that humans brought into his world, so much so, that he entered this world in human form. In the God-man Jesus, he experienced and shared with us the worst pain and suffering that humans can inflict on others or bear in themselves. If Jesus had been only human, he would have had every reason to curse the God who allowed him to suffer and to hate the humans who hurt him. But he was not and he did not. In Jesus, pain was overwhelmed by peace, suffering overcome by grace, evil overridden by love and death overpowered by life.
If you find yourself needing answers in a world that has changed too quickly or are suffering from the pain of trauma or the isolation of loss, then may I suggest you seek the one who is love and grace and peace.