This pandemic is like a person ripping off a bandaid from a wound that is not healed.
The pandemic has exposed a variety of harsh realities for so many people. The harshest reality being that we are not in control. This has been really difficult for many folks to grapple with and take in. We are surrounded by a society that has told us that we are special, that we are extraordinary, and that everything should cater to our desires. Our marketing is focused on our individual wants and desires (some that we didn’t know we had until a company told us that we needed/wanted something). Our entertainment is targeted to our individual wants. Services provided are based on our individual wants and desires. And we have been making our working environments about our individual wants and desires too. And of course religion has been a part of this mix. In the last century, there was a shift in much of American Christianity towards the personal savior and the individualism of faith.
Move forward to the present. We witness fights over masks and vaccinations. There are acts of rage in public events and meetings. There are debates over what is true. And the core of these messages are the same – who is in control? As with most things, there isn’t a nice easy answer, but rather a blurry mess of a spectrum of answers all jumbled together – which feeds very nicely into the narrative that so many of us have been fed for our entire lives. The narrative tells us that we are in control. Reality tells us a different story.
Fights over masks and vaccinations aren’t really fights over those things. They are fights over who is in control. Are we in control over ourselves? Or is someone else? Or is it more complicated and perplexing than that?
“Don’t tell me what to do!” is the statement that sums all of this up. In times of chaos and crisis, human beings seek a few things – certainty and control. We want to know and we want to be in control. Considering that so much is in chaos and so much is unknowable, I get it. And so many people are drawn to people and things that offer certainty (knowing) and control. Often these come in the form of simplistic dualistic belief systems. us vs. them, right vs. wrong, left vs. right, Democrat vs. Republican, candidate vs. candidate, rich vs. poor, vaccinated vs. unvaccinated, masked vs. unmasked, American vs. non-American, etc.
How comforting it must be for someone who feels like they are falling in an endless pit to grab hold of something (anything really) that offers a clarity in a simple way – something that offers a person the feeling that at least for this one thing, they are in control. They can control how someone or something can be classified.
And yet, that comfort is fleeting. It won’t last. And so we have a choice. Do we continue down the road of simple categorization of everything – all seeking the feeling of control? If we do, where does it end? And more importantly, doesn’t our desire for more control through labeling and categorizing really just reveal our own brokenness and how out of control we really are?
For many folks, being out of control is really scary; life threatening really. And it isn’t new.
Genesis 3 tells the story of the fall of humanity. And the core of that story (no pun intended), is that the serpent was offering Eve (and all of humanity with her) knowing and being in control – “You will be like gods.”
Forget looking at the early part of Genesis through a literal sense (that’s just more trying to control anyway). We miss so much when we try to interpret all of Scripture literally. What the story teaches us is that our human desire for control and knowing are never going to be satisfied and the consequences of such desire are destructive. We control ourselves right into the grave.
If we look at the core of any fight going on today, I think we’ll see that it is really about who is in control, and our understanding of what control means. Control is about the use of force. It’s about making someone do something. Control is a consuming thing. It takes up so much space. And it pushes out much healthier things – things like love, mercy, grace, forgiveness, service, seeing the image of God, and Shalom.
This pandemic has changed people and what we are able to do. We are hit with a tsunami of reality that we are not in control and we have never been in control. We have had the facade of control and it was addicting. And like any addict will tell you – withdraw is painful. There are many people who are having a difficult time with this reality – some who are experiencing it for the first time. And they are resisting. They are looking for a quick hit to take off of the jitters and the headaches and the withdraw symptoms.
We are not in control. We never have been. And that is Good News.