Few things have highlighted our human tendency to be unkind or even cruel to those who disagree with us quite like the COVID-19 pandemic. How can we do better?
In some ways, COVID transformed the world almost overnight.
In other ways, it just gave us a glimpse of some ugly truths that we’ve been sweeping under the rug for decades.
This isn’t an article about global supply chains or epidemic preparedness. It isn’t even really about COVID—that’s just the backdrop to a far more important issue.
This is an article, first and foremost, about how Christians ought to be treating each other.
Developing a foot-washing mind-set
Hours before His crucifixion, Jesus personally washed the feet of His disciples. That included the feet of Judas Iscariot, who Jesus knew would shortly betray Him to the Jewish authorities.
“Do you know what I have done to you?” He asked them. “You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you” (John 13:12-15).
Every year, Christians gather together for the Passover and fulfill that instruction—washing each other’s feet as our Lord and Teacher did for His disciples nearly 2,000 years ago. (Read more in “Passover and Forgiveness.”)
A key component in this ceremony is the attitude behind the foot washing. To stoop down and wash the feet of another human being can be humbling. To trade places and allow that same human being to wash your feet is beyond humbling. The whole ceremony is a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness as fellow servants of Jesus Christ—and the importance of being willing to serve each other.
After the foot washing was over, Jesus told the disciples, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (verses 34-35).
Love is our proof of discipleship
There are quite a few identifying marks of the people of God. He gives us the weekly Sabbath as “a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you” (Exodus 31:13).
The annual feasts and holy days (Leviticus 23) are a sign. Our belief in and dedication to spreading “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 24:14) throughout the whole world is another.
But love, said Jesus, is the sign. The world will know us as disciples, followers and students of Jesus Christ, when they see us showing the same love that He showed.
How do you think we’ve been doing on that front?
How we failed the toilet paper test
COVID has been on the world scene for over two years now. Two years. In that time, what have you seen more of: Christlike love or resentment, bitterness and frustration?
More importantly, what have you shown more of?
I remember when we first started feeling the impact of COVID in my little corner of the United States. But it wasn’t the virus itself that caused the initial impact—it was people.
When we let our own thoughts and opinions get in the way, it gets harder and harder to love as Christ loved.When the shelter-in-place mandates started around the world, people panicked. They started stockpiling everything they thought they might need for the uncertain weeks ahead.
Including toilet paper.
The funny thing is, we were never really at risk for running out of toilet paper in the U.S. or most other countries. The supply chain for that particular commodity is strong—but people were buying it faster than it could be restocked. And so, on April 19, 2020, half the grocery stores in the U.S. found themselves sold out of toilet paper.
That’s not to say that everyone who bought toilet paper at the onset of the pandemic was wrong. But some turned acquiring as much toilet paper as possible into a mission and other shoppers into enemies. On the whole, it seems we were afraid that someone else might buy what we might someday need—so instead, we made sure to buy it first.
Is that what Christlike love looks like?
Plenty of hills to die on
The run on toilet paper wasn’t a Christian problem specifically. It was a human problem. But it did set the tone for things to come.
In the days and months that followed, quite a few of us became experts overnight. We were experts in epidemiology, experts in constitutional rights, experts in logistics, experts in economic theory, experts in legislation. My Facebook feed was flooded with people who were absolutely certain they knew The Right Thing to Do and were furious at the henchmen of The Other Side for spreading propaganda and rhetoric to the contrary.
It turned into a never-ending shouting match. Every news item, every CDC update, every governmental mandate became one more hill to die on. Masks. Social distancing. Self-treatment methods. Vaccines. Everyone had sources. Everyone had a reason why everyone else’s sources were wrong.
So many voices were shouting.
So many continue to shout.
So many of those voices belong to Christians.
COVID isn’t the real problem
I said earlier that this isn’t really an article about COVID. And it’s not. It’s an article about us. About Christians in progress. About how we choose to navigate things like COVID.
There are a lot of lessons to draw from this pandemic, but for me, the most visceral one is this:
When we let our own thoughts and opinions get in the way, it gets harder and harder to love as Christ loved.
And when we start viewing our thoughts and opinions as fact, it gets almost impossible.
The danger of losing focus
The early Church had a similar problem—because the early Church was made up of fallible human beings too. There was a debate over whether a Christian should eat meat that had been offered to idols, and even though “an idol is nothing in the world” (1 Corinthians 8:4), there were those whose “conscience, being weak, [was] defiled” (verse 7) by the act.
Paul told the Romans, “If your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died . . . For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.
“Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food” (Romans 14:15, 17-20).
It is easy to get so entrenched in the ongoing debate over COVID that we become willing to “destroy with [our] food the one for whom Christ died.”
It is easy to forget that, as much as a worldwide pandemic affects every aspect of our lives, COVID is not the most important thing happening right now.
What matters is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not eating or drinking—not debates over vaccines and masks, not heated arguments over constitutional rights and governmental authority—“but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.”
Keys to pursing peace
We don’t pursue peace by trying to force those around us to share our views on the latest update from the CDC or by vilifying and shouting down everyone who disagrees with us. We pursue peace by accepting that in a developing situation like a worldwide pandemic, no one but God has all the answers, and we make a conscious effort to not destroy the work of God for the sake of our personal opinions.
Please don’t misunderstand me—there are absolutely hills worth dying on. When God’s truth is challenged, when others try to lead us away from God’s explicit instructions, we are duty-bound to plant our feet and refuse to budge (compare Deuteronomy 13).
But when it’s something less than that—when it’s a difference of opinion that has no bearing on our entrance to the Kingdom of God, no matter how passionate our feelings—then “let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:3-4).
And again, “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!” (Galatians 5:14-15).
Learning to love others the way Jesus Christ loved us is a mammoth, lifelong task. But we can’t pursue that goal by tearing down our brothers and sisters in the faith who disagree with us.
We pursue it by getting on our knees and washing their feet.