Crisis as Reality, Revelation, Regulation
Crises of any sort are an invitation to respond with righteousness, justice, and love of neighbour. But there are always three obstacles in the way:
Reality—is this a crisis?
Revelation—how are people responding?
Regulation—what is my level of fear?
With over 1,800,000 confirmed cases of covid-19 and more than 110,000 deaths, the medical community around the world copes with a situation that knows no bounds or borders. Financial markets are plummeting, and multiple countries are launching economic stimulus programs. When in recent history has the entire world been concerned about health, mortality, and economic decline?
Children are ‘visiting’ their elderly parents through the windows of seniors’ facilities, and people with already compromised systems are fearful that they will pick up the virus and not get the help they require. Who in western culture has had to worry whether there would be enough ventilators in the local hospital?
Parents with young children are living an unknown existence, trying to stay home as requested by the government, but not being sure how to do their life, pay their bills, or function with social distance. Who in western culture has had to worry whether they should take their children to the playground?
Older people who are closing in on retirement are watching their pension get smaller by the day. Employees who already live paycheque to paycheque, are not sure how they will put food on the table, and whether they will benefit directly from stimulus plans. Who in western culture has had to think so much about putting bread on the table and wondering where to buy the bread?
Children of various ages and dispositions have to grapple with a virus that seems frightening, even ominous, and it is hard to reassure them when no one knows for sure what is going to happen. Who in western culture has had to figure out communication by linking developmental psychology and explaining a pandemic?
Educational systems, schools, administrators, teachers, and staff, while acknowledging the value of online learning and working from home, are now at a place where being in-person and in-the-school are not allowed. Who in western culture has ever imagined a scenario where this would be mandated rather than chosen?
We are in a crisis. As we navigate our various communities, it will be essential to live into this reality and not expend energy debating whether it is a crisis.
Better to pursue righteousness, justice, and love of neighbour in the crisis, than be absorbed with conceptual debates.
Crises are seasons characterized by difficulty, challenge, even danger. They are disruptors of the equilibrium that previously marked our lives. Do you remember last March break? You were not thinking about multi-billion-dollar infusions from the government, how many hand sanitizers you owned, or cute songs you could sing while washing your hands. This March break has brought a crisis.
The great irony with crises is that they do not bring a new day. Who we were before the challenge will have a significant impact on who we are in it. Personality styles, spiritual commitments, and political convictions before a danger rise to the surface when trauma hits. Our go-to conflict resolution pattern in normal circumstances will be what comes to the table in the crisis.
We have all experienced this phenomenon in recent days. While many individuals and communities are stepping up with compassion and action, we are confronted with multiple stories and personal experiences that make us cringe and frustrated. However, in these situations, people are merely behaving in ways that characterized their life pre-covid-19. Here are five stories I have heard recently.
Pastors refuse to cancel church services because the government should not be telling God’s people they cannot meet together.
Democrats and the media create pandemonium around the virus, as a way to get Trump out of the White House.
Prosperity gospel evangelist proposes that people give $91 to her ministry because Psalm 91 encourages us not to fear pestilence and plagues.
Church teaches that saltwater sprayed into your mouth will cure the virus, but when they did it, 46 people were infected with the virus because they did not clean the bottle between sprays.
Woman who believes that there are too many people on the earth says this virus is God’s way of shrinking the population.
Whatever we may think of these responses, they are revelations of the way people usually respond, so there is little point in fighting their perspective.
Better to pursue righteousness, justice, and love of neighbour in the crisis, than be absorbed with challenging the response of others.
Crises provide an opportunity for all of us to self-regulate. Those who self-regulate well bring appropriate and helpful emotional reactions to external circumstances. In the face of a global pandemic, we need to ask ourselves how fear and worry are operating within us.
“Fear not” is an essential biblical injunction. Sometimes this is poorly understood by Christians who think that a fear of heights, cancer, snakes, or viruses, is synonymous with being unspiritual or showing a lack of faith. It becomes a superhero reaction where you are untouched by anything human, but live in a spiritual bubble that is immune to anything that comes your way. By this standard, the shepherds who reacted with fear to the angels at the announcement of Jesus’ birth, and Jesus himself who reacted fearfully in the Garden of Gethsemane in anticipation of his crucifixion, would be found wanting.
My mother is in a seniors’ facility in Toronto. I am fearful that her residence will be impacted by the virus, that she might contract it, and it could result in her death. I hold those appropriate emotional reactions in tension with the fact I trust in God to carry out His will for my mother, His loved child. If I become consumed by the fear and worry in an obsessive over-wrought way and do not live in trust, I am missing the reality of my relationship with my Creator. By the same token, if I slip into a dualism that believes belief in God eliminates all fear and worry, I am missing the reality that I am created and human.
Jesus captures this issue in the Sermon on the Mount when he references people who worry about what they should wear, and what they should eat or drink. Life, Jesus argues, is not about apparel, food, and beverages. If we become absorbed with these things, and they begin to define our life, we have missed the point of faith. Those who have faith and trust in God obviously think about their diet and their wardrobe, but those thoughts are not at the centre. Putting the pursuit of the kingdom of God at the centre moves these legitimate issues to the edge.
If we either ignore the covid-19 or let it define our lives, we have not used this moment to regulate emotionally under the watchful eye of a loving and caring Father.
Better to pursue righteousness, justice, and love of neighbour in the crisis, than be absorbed with fear.
Rod Wilson served as President of Regent College from 2000–2015. Originally trained as a clinical psychologist, Dr. Wilson has been involved in the field of counselling and consulting for over 30 years. He is currently Teaching Pastor at Capilano Christian Community, as well as Senior Advisor with A Rocha Canada, and consultant with various organizations, including SCSBC.