Post-COVID expectations

One of the strangest things about the unfolding disaster of 2020 is the way in which so many, and especially Christians, seem to have acquired strongly rose-tinted spectacles regarding its final outcome.

I first noticed this back at the beginning, with a lady bishop waxing lyrical, as we entered the first of many lockdowns, about society becoming more enlightened because of, as far as I could tell, learning the joys of doing without cars and planes which would make the world both greener and kinder. But it’s still going on, with one contributor to a recent prayer-letter I received writing: “We now hope and pray the ‘new normal’ our society emerges into in due course is more caring and compassionate than before.”

What shred of evidence is there for that happening, though? The Dunkirk spirit that had people here moronically clapping the NHS and volunteering for all kinds of things has largely evaporated with the real jobs and the mental health. We now see people shopping their neighbours for having the wrong guests, and we see people being deplatformed or sacked for having the wrong opinions not only on the virus, but on an increasing range of other issues. The police are increasingly getting used to enforcing increasingly draconian laws, and it’s now run-of-the-mill in the UK to see peaceful nonogenarians being dragged away in handcuffs to protect them from being infected with COVID. Or it may be to prevent them busting Julian Assange out of his illegal captivity. It’s hard to be sure because a divided press reports such incidents in opposite ways, if at all.

In America this very day we have news that might portend the civil war so many have been predicting from the increasing polarization of the country. Whether or not you blame one side or the other, or both, care and compassion it ain’t – and won’t be, unless one side annihilates the other totally and somehow remains sweetly united through the terror. Precedents for that appear uncommon.

There is division over morality, division over races, and even what constitutes racism, dision over sexuality and gender, division over freedom of speech, division over science, division over religion (and even within Christianity as to what religion is), and division within families.

And largely hidden from those not personally involved, there are firms going out of business, employees being exploited by big corporations, developing-world people dying from lockdown-induced starvation, and escalating mental health issues (I heard of a Scottish GP this morning saying that 50% of his workload is now mental health – I’ll wager the other half isn’t COVID.

The experience of history is that mass unemployment and epidemic depression and anxiety do not lead to more compassion and caring. It’s true that people in adversity often become more mutually supportive – but it’s also the fact that when economy and civil order break down, people in isolated houses get tortured to reveal their meagre store of valuables, children get neglected and wives beaten.

So where, exactly, is this outpouring of kindness and generosity supposed to be coming from in the “new normal”? And who is offering it? It sounds rather utopian to say that such a better world will simply emerge from the disruptions of the present crisis, when history (and traditional theology) seem to show civilised values to arise only from a constant struggle against the evils of the human heart, not to mention the powers and principalities in the heavenly realms.

And that utopianism is maybe a clue to the source. It is the progressive “woke” types, at street level, and the rich and powerful corporations and NGOs of the Great Reset, together with totalitarian socialist states like China, at the global level, that are offering actual agendas for perfectly happy and sustainable societies. But “care and compassion” seem in that context to be quaint, even bourgeois, values. For “care” read “surveillance,” and for “compassion” read “social credit.” For those not complying with the system, silencing and retribution seem more in order, even now.

But to be positive, that’s not to say care and compassion are going to be absent in the future. They will just be rarer, and won at great personal cost. The apostle Paul tells us:

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people…

… You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

This is actually very positive teaching, first because it forewarns us supernaturally of what to expect, and how to spot deceitful prophets who say “Peace, peace,” when there is no peace. And secondly because it tells us how to go about bucking the system and living in care and compassion. Surprisingly, critical race theory and social distancing don’t get a look in – but the Scriptures do.

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About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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