[About the photo: It is not a picture of two people fighting. It is a picture of the trending “elbow bump.” The new pandemic-era handshake, if you will. A friendly, social greeting, symbolizing affection and solidarity, while still respecting each other’s physical space and practicing transmission precautions.]
[Post Disclaimer: This post is specifically about COVID-19 and our society’s response to the pandemic and how we treat each other when we have differences of opinions regarding those responses. It is not my intention for the content in this post to be generalized and/or applied to other controversial topics in today’s society. Those topics would require much more in-depth discussion.
This particular post is about seeking God in our own decision-making regarding how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it’s about listening to others and giving grace to those who might think or respond differently than we do (again, specifically related to the COVID-19 pandemic). So please keep that in mind as you read this post. Thank you.]
I recently shared a post titled, Taming the Tongue. I had been sitting on it for several months, unfinished, partially because I have been busy with my book publications. In hindsight, I’m glad the post was delayed, because I think it needed to be shared at such a time as this. A time when our nation and world are divided and blaming each other—and saying unkind things to each other— instead of coming together in unity.
I’m specifically referring to COVID-19 and how it has become a very sensitive, politicized, and polarizing topic for many. The “vaccinated vs. the unvaccinated.” The “masked vs. the unmasked.”
I personally know, love, and respect people from both groups, and their decisions are not necessarily based on politics. Their decisions are based on personal research, heart-felt emotions, faith guidance, personal health considerations, and the consideration of others’ health and comfort. And even though many of these people serve and love the same God, they still have differences of opinion.
We are Human Beings
As human beings, created by God with individual thoughts, feelings, and life experiences, it’s naturally expected that many of us will have different opinions and different convictions from one another. It’s impossible for everyone to think alike. From the dawn of man (or rather, the fall of man), there have always been polarizing views and beliefs, ranging from small, insignificant issues to much larger, hot-button controversial topics.
But even though we may have different opinions about how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we can still treat each other with dignity and respect. We can still show love and humility towards one another and “agree to disagree” (if need be) without putting each other down or spreading contempt-fueled criticism, which is sadly running rampant on social media and certain news outlets.
The blame-game. The name-calling. The disrespect. The hatred. It is heartbreaking and unnecessary. And it is driving our nation and world further and further apart when we should instead be coming together in unity and peace, trying to find a path forward.
Speaking of unity, I personally believe that there are times when Christ asks us to lay down our own comfort and needs for the sake of others. I believe that He wants us to love our neighbors. But that “act of love” may look different for everyone. There are lots of ways to love your neighbor.
Let’s consider mask-wearing, for instance. It can be considered an act of love to wear a mask in an attempt to protect others from a viral infection. But I also know of people who physically and/or emotionally struggle to wear a mask, even though they do still love their neighbors. Some people say wearing a mask causes them to experience breathing difficulties, communication and hearing struggles, anxiety, and panic attacks. Some people say they are worried they’ll hinder their own natural immunity by wearing a mask all day. So they choose not to wear a mask often or not at all, for various reasons. Even though some people feel this way, many of them still show love for their neighbor through lots of other actions. Through prayer, giving emotional support, providing acts of service, etc.
“One size does not fit all.” We are all unique human beings with different needs and emotions. And we won’t know what those underlying needs and emotions are unless we honestly and respectfully dialogue about them. That’s where grace comes in. Instead of discounting each other’s feelings right off the bat, saying one group is “wrong” or “right,” we can validate each other’s feelings and have an open and honest conversation about the underlying beliefs and values that drive those feelings and choices.
When the pharisees brought an adulterous woman to Jesus and asked her if she should be stoned, what was His response? He said, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) Jesus did not condemn her. He instead gave grace. He taught us not to judge each other. He restored the woman and told her to leave her life of sin, yes, but He did it lovingly and without condemnation.
I know this passage can be used for multiple contexts, but for me, right now, it shows me that we are all flawed human beings in need of God’s grace. And maybe we should be practicing that grace with each other as well.
People in this world (and in our own nation) have different ideologies, upbringings, education, religion, and personal life experiences which shape their decision-making. For COVID-19, specifically, I think most people are trying to make the best decisions they can with the information that is available to them, which can sometimes be difficult to navigate in today’s all-access-media world where there can be misinformation on both sides.
I think most people are trying to do what they believe is right, for themselves and for others, but it also seems like they still face condemnation from “the other side” when their decisions and beliefs differ from others.
There’s a saying that goes, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That’s not true. Words cut deep as well. They can pierce your heart like an arrow. Whether it’s coming from a news report, on social media, or from your own family and friends.
Let’s give each other grace. Let’s drop our stones. Society may judge you for whatever decision you make, but rest assured, God’s judgement is the only one that truly matters. He is the only one who can see inside our hearts and minds.
I encourage us all to have open, respectful dialogues with others who believe differently than we do. We can stay true to our convictions, yes, but it’s important to try and understand where other people are coming from, especially the emotions and values behind their decisions and beliefs. Let’s get to know each other’s stories and each other’s “truths,” which may or may not be different from our own.
Take the Bible, for instance. Even though the Bible is TRUTH, it has often been subject to individual interpretation, used out of context, and consciously or subconsciously twisted to match one’s own beliefs. I’m guilty of that as well. A truth from the Bible that I hold dear to might be interpreted differently by someone else, who equally clings to the Bible for truth. Again, we are all human beings, trying to follow God’s will, albeit imperfectly.
Ask God to guide you in your decisions, your research, and how you interpret His Word. Give yourself grace as you search for His will, and try to give grace to others as they do the same.
Instead of throwing sticks and stones at each other, let’s come together, build a (metaphorical) communal campfire with those sticks and stones, and sit and talk with each other like Jesus did. Peacefully. Respectfully. Lovingly.
Most important of all, no matter what “side of the fence” you find yourself on with COVID-19, I encourage you (and me) to CONTINUALLY SEEK GOD.
Our decisions should be based on whatever conviction God has placed in our heart. Educating ourselves is very important, absolutely. Seeking feedback from others is also helpful, absolutely. But the most important thing we can do in all of this is to ask God to guide us. And by asking Him to guide us, we need to be actively seeking Him day after day, listening to Him, waiting for Him, and trusting in Him.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Your path— in all aspects of life— may look different from someone else’s path, and that’s ok. They’ll all eventually lead to the same place if we keep seeking Jesus. Some of us get lost along the way (myself included), but do not lose heart. Running the race with God is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. Keep following the roadmap (the Bible) God has given us. Keep choosing to breathe in what He says and not what the world says.
Pray for One Another
Lastly, I encourage us all to PRAY.
Pray for healing. Physical healing, emotional healing, and spiritual healing. Many people have left churches over the past year and a half. Many people have lost loved ones and have suffered prolonged illnesses. Nurses and doctors and hospital staff have experienced grief and trauma and exhaustion. Businesses have struggled, and families have endured financial hardships. Individuals have felt fear, loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
Pray for guidance. Pray for government leaders (local, national, and international). Pray for leaders in hospitals, schools, and churches.
Pray for the world. Pray for peace, for love, and for unity.
In closing, I want to share with you a prayer from the Apostle Paul: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give [us] a spirit of unity among [ourselves] as [we] follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth [we] may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6)
Drop the stones. Build that campfire. Share an “elbow bump” and have the open, respectful conversations. Discover the values and emotions behind people’s decisions; their answers may surprise you and cause you to re-think your own decisions. Even if we end up agreeing to disagree, we can still come together, unified by Christ’s love, and model His example of grace and compassion.
With His guidance, we can try to find a way through all of this together.