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Social Distancing and Love

Some readers of this column had parents or grandparents who could recall the Depression. Unsurprisingly, living through that even left a mark on that generation. While it certainly didn’t affect everyone the same way, often those of that era were often especially frugal. They understood that provision can be fragile and that waste is unwarranted.

None of us have any idea how our current situation with the coronavirus is going to play out. But it seems likely that this pandemic will leave a mark on us, much as September 11 did before it. How will these days change us? And will those changes make us more like Christ or less?

I cannot predict the long term consequences of this with certainly, but I want to offer one caution that I think is needed.

Going into the lockdown, we already lived in a deeply polarized country. Our politics have become increasingly toxic, as roughly half of the country is convinced the other half is either evil or stupid (and possibly both). This in itself presents challenges to Christian love.

But now, in that very polarized environment, we’ve added a new, very dark twist.

We’re all supposed to be staying home as much as possible right now. But eventually, each of us is forced to head to a store to get necessary items. And perhaps you’ve noticed, as I have, that the mood there has changed.

Here’s where I’m concerned: when people venture into public places, they do so with an attitude of high suspicion to everyone they meet, acting as though every interaction with a stranger might kill them. We literally view everyone as toxic.

I understand the reasoning here. But we must consider how this attitude changes our hearts. To live this way without reflecting on its perils means it will shape us without our awareness.

I am not suggesting that we should ignore the health risks. But we need to fight the natural inclination we have in days like this to harden our hearts to others and become selfish. I read an interesting article that lamented all the talk of “social distance,” because what we’re really after is “physical distance.” The goal is to avoid the transfer of illness; it isn’t to distance ourselves socially from others. Even the phrasing we use can change how we see our duty in these days.

Christians are to be known by their love for one another. Jesus said so directly: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Yes, we need to avoid behaviors that might put our neighbors at risk, and that is love. But in doing so, let’s continue to cultivate love for our neighbors in our hearts.

To be sure, there are practical ways in which we can express love for one another now, and we ought to pursue those. But I’m urging you first to keep a watch on your heart, that your disposition toward your neighbor doesn’t change through the pandemic.

About Michael Riley

Student of theology, apologetics, and Christian affections. Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church, Wakefield, Michigan.