As I write this, I am sitting in my house with my wife and dog and son. We have not been outside for a few days. We are watching a lot of Netflix. We are taking a lot of video conference calls for work. It’s not so bad yet, but cabin fever is going to set in soon. And we are healthy, so far.
This is what life has been like for us, in Canada, in the first few days of the social distancing phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Around us, the entire country is grinding to a stop. Billions in relief is flowing from the government and even from the banks. Premiers and the Prime Minister have taken a break from partisan games to work together. This is a big deal – the biggest mobilization of national resources and the biggest international effort since WWII.
The difference is that WWII wasn’t fought during a time of social media. I can’t imagine how different that war would have been with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as the primary sources of news and information. The COVID-19 memes have started now too – and with them, the inevitable dumbing-down of a complex issue has begun.
Just yesterday, a well-meaning Christian friend posted this meme:
Satan: “I will cause anxiety, fear and panic. I will shut down businesses, schools, places of worship and sports events. I will cause economic turmoil.”
Jesus: “I will bring together neighbors, restore the family unit, I will bring dinner back to the kitchen table. I will help people slow down their lives and appreciate what really matters, I will teach my children to rely on me and not the world. I will teach my children to trust me and not their money and material resources.”
It’s a lovely sentiment. And I have to admit, something similar crossed my mind looking at the pictures from around the world of empty highways, and maps of dissipating air pollution.
But let’s take a closer look.
Silver lining or lesson?
The meme says that Satan is causing bad things to happen. But, reading the Bible, whenever pestilence and disease strike a people it is almost always because God sends it. For example, in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 it says “While they are saying, “Peace and safety!” then destruction will come upon them suddenly like labor pains upon a woman with child, and they will not escape.” There are lots of verses just like that one. And in the story of Job, Satan has no power to do evil unless allowed by God. So we can’t pin this one on Satan.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying COVID-19 is a punishment – but seeing it as a blessing seems like a stretch.
Try talking about the “blessings of the restored family unit” to the dad who is about to lose his business and his ability to keep a roof over his family’s head. Talk to me about “slowing down my life” as I’m chained to my desk for 16 hours a day trying to calm down nervous clients and friends. Talk about the virtue of “dinner coming back to the table” to the Italian grandchildren who will never have dinner with their grandmothers again. Talk about “relying on God” when not relying on science and experts was the real cause of the pandemic.
I understand the need to see a silver lining in things – but right now, the COVID-19 pandemic seems much less like God telling us to pray than a swift kick in the pants by God to start using our brains and common sense. Much less like God telling us to count our blessings and a lot more like God telling us to gather our wits about us.
For a long time, we’ve ignored the experts who told us this could happen. In fact, in the U.S., the President fired his pandemic advisory team. And no country has made the investments in the life-saving health care resources we need to prepare for a large-scale disaster.
There’s a lesson in this, but it’s a lot more complicated and a lot darker than a feel-good meme.