If you have missed my previous posts (which, unless you are a family member of mine, is 99% likely), I am taking some time in this crazy season to think about some things that are normally true about life but are now especially clear due to COVID-19. This strange season that we are in is like a spotlight, illuminating things that are always there, but perhaps just less clearly visible during other times of life. The short list I came up with is this:
- We are not in control
- We long for significance and security
- We (and things) are complicated
- We need grace from/for each other
- We are deeply interconnected
- We are more selfish than we think
- We have a great capacity for love
Observation #3: We (and things) are complicated. This might actually be one of my favorite topics. I’m a big believer in the idea that so much conflict, turmoil, and distress in this world comes from the fact that we tend to draw simple conclusions about complicated matters. Or more simply, we fail to recognize how complicated things truly are. We live in a world where we settle for tweetable answers to questions that deserve entire books to answer. That is why I love caveats so much. So many times in life, and in theology, the answer to a question is not a simple yes or no but a “Yes, and…” or a “No, but…” One specific, more obvious example: Is Jesus fully God or fully man? Christians would say he is both! How? Well, it is complicated and probably can’t be answered in a tweet.
We should also consider the fact that we ourselves are complicated people. We have an ability to act selflessly while still being selfish. We have an ability to think one thing but say or do another. We are full of contradictions and if we are honest with ourselves, often hold various viewpoints that are actually incompatible. We can have deep affection for the same people who drive us crazy. Even though we may do our best to attempt buttoned up, unified, singularly focused individuals – if we are honest we are complicated, complex beings.
Now, let me be clear. What I am not saying is that everything is relative, there is no such thing as absolute truth, or that each of us gets to decide for ourselves what is right and true. I would simply argue that the absolute truth is often more complicated, and deserves more nuance and discussion than we often allow. Again, we look for one-liners instead of thoughtful dialogue, tweetable quotes instead of lengthy novels.
The fact that things are complicated is always true. However, we are in an extremely confusing situation in which this has become abundantly clear. The question of what to do with the coronavirus or how to respond to it feels tense, divisive, and confusing. We desperately want to know where to land, or what to think about it. We read one thing that makes us feel hopeful about freely hugging your friends and family very soon and another that makes us feel like the world just might end tomorrow. If you are like me, this can feel agonizing! Somebody, anybody, give me a one-liner that will make this go away! But they can’t. Because it is complicated.
One way that being aware of this truth should inform the way we proceed is that it should cause us to have a lot of grace and empathy for folks. We are in unchartered territory as a world, and as a society. Leaders of all kinds, whether hyper-local, like your pastor, or globabl, like our Presidents and Prime Ministers of the world, have been making complicated decisions based off of complicated information in the middle of a complicated situation. This doesn’t excuse ignorance, apathy, or a failure to engage in the complicated matters. But it does mean that people are going to get things wrong. People are going to change their minds. People are going to confuse and frustrate us. Why? Because this is complicated. And we are complicated people.
We can even make it more personal. People everywhere are trying to make difficult decisions in the middle of this complicated situation, and I am almost positive you are among them. Whether that is determining how your business should proceed, whether you can have friends over for dinner, or whether you should feel comfortable going for a run in a park – these are all new, difficult decisions with a number of social and situational factors that make them even more complicated. So we should not be surprised that we feel stressed or troubled about them. We should also not be surprised when our friends come to different conclusions. And we should not be surprised when we, or those around us, change our minds about these decisions. It is okay. It is natural. Because this is complicated.
So what should we do? We should seek the truth, even when it takes some extra digging, research, reading, talking to try to figure it out. We should be willing to do the work of looking for thorough, thoughtful perspectives instead of quick, pointed one-liners that are simplifying a complicated situation. We should have grace for those who are around us and doing their best to figure this out. We should prioritize loving God and loving our neighbor, and seek this above all else as we make complicated decisions in the middle of a complicated time. Lastly, we should be wise, thoughtful, and considerate, placing others needs ahead of our own.