COVID-19: Compliance and the Thinking Christian

Neither “doing as we’re told” without asking questions, nor “doing what we want” in defiance of the authorities is an option for the thinking Christian. And neither course of action will bring this crisis to a harmonious conclusion.

A Couple of Clarifications

First, I have not communicated clearly or often enough about my appreciation for those who are working on the front lines of this pandemic. So let me start by saying a big thank you to those who continue to faithfully serve during this time! While the rest of us are avoiding COVID-19 like the plague (which, you know, it kind of is…) you are not able to keep your distance. This is very good work that demands a level of self-sacrifice that we all appreciate.

Second, if I have not made my views on the reality and seriousness of COVID-19 clear enough, let me do so now. In a post last week I said that, “COVID-19 is real. People are dying because of it and we should do what we can to mitigate its effects.” I still believe that and I agree that people need to comply with all reasonable social distancing orders.

Intelligent Compliance

While I will continue to encourage this, I will also continue to encourage intelligent, and not merely blind, compliance. Neither “doing as we’re told” without asking questions, nor “doing what we want” in defiance of the authorities is an option for the thinking Christian. And neither course of action will bring this crisis to a harmonious conclusion.

God’s word tells us to honour, pray for, and be subject to our leaders (Rom. 13:1; 1 Pet. 2:17), but there are also limits to our compliance, as we see in Acts 5:29. This means that we cannot and should not blindly accept the doctrine of either side of the debate that is currently raging in the public square. Instead, we must examine the truth of scripture, apply that truth to the public debate and our own actions, and then leave the consequences to God.

At What Cost?

Many decisions have been made these last months based on the goal of minimizing the number of deaths and, of course, we all want to minimize COVID-19-related deaths. The question is at what cost? It may sound callous to think of this in terms of cost-benefit analysis, but in reality that is what everyone on all sides of this debate is doing. Some believe the overall human and economic cost of shutting everything down will be less than the cost of taking a more blended approach. Others believe the opposite.  

Leaders and policy-makers have to make decisions on a daily basis about minimizing death in a wide array of scenarios. As a society we have decided on many issues (automobile safety, for example), and even with COVID-19, that some number of deaths is tolerable – or at least inevitable – in order to preserve civil liberties and the minimal functioning of our society. 

How to Knock Out COVID-19 Completely

Think of it this way: if we really wanted to knock COVID-19 out completely, wouldn’t the best solution be for every individual to stay isolated in a locked room with a bathroom, emerging only to eat food that is delivered by someone in a hazmat suit that has been certified non-COVID?

We all agree that’s a ridiculous scenario, right? And we all agree that doing nothing is equally ridiculous. So between those two extremes we have to decide on the right path. And we should most certainly not be afraid to wrestle with different ideas, concepts, and proposals. If we really want to seek the welfare of the nation in which we live (Jer. 29:7), we will enter into reasonable and intelligent debates about massive decisions that have both short-term and long-term implications.  

George Orwell, COVID-19, and the War Metaphor

As examples of over-enforcement multiply and as we see snitch lines and people’s willingness to use them, we may want to take one giant step back, turn our heads side to side with our eyes open, and observe what seems to be happening around us. As I said in a post last week, “with the penchant for sensationalism on the part of some of the media, and the lust for attention and control on the part of some of our politicians, there may very well be aspects of this crisis that are being overstated. And some may be positioning themselves for greater access to the levers of power once the crisis has abated.” And so, “careful inquiry is always warranted in unusual times when people stand to gain anything, and in the midst of this crisis there are those who see opportunities for improper gain.” Since I wrote that, my optimism about government over-reach has faded significantly. I’ve been thinking a lot about the limits of obedience in the context of Romans 13, which, taken (as it always should be) along with the rest of scripture, does not advocate absolute obedience to the state. This means we should not simply “do what we’re told” in every circumstance. When those in authority attempt to leverage a crisis to expand their control over those under their authority, we should not hesitate to speak up.  

The War Metaphor

And so we should be alarmed when we read words like these from a recent editorial in the Globe and Mail that bluntly states, “Canada is at war. It’s a war that is going to be costly, though how costly is impossible to say. It may also be long.” If we are going to swallow this suggestion whole we should expect some indigestion in the near future. This quote from George Orwell’s novel 1984 seems timely: “[T]he consciousness of being at war, and therefore in danger, makes the handing-over of all power to a small caste seem the natural, unavoidable condition of survival.”

Follow Intelligently, Not Blindly

As we continue to discern both the obligations and limits of what we are told in Romans 13, let’s watch and follow intelligently but not blindly. Ultimate authority resides with God’s word and not the words of men – regardless of how much delegated authority they wield. If, under threat of punishment, we fail to speak the truth of God’s word at a time when it is most needed, we and everyone around us will pay a steep price. Let’s continue to obey God in all things, including these words: “I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior…” – 1 Timothy 2:1-3 While blind obedience will not do, neither will the complete lack of respect for our leaders I have seen in so many social media posts. Strive to find the balance between blind obedience and sinful disrespect; one is not better than the other.