Amongst other things the last 18 months have represented a significant philosophical discussion. How many restrictions should be imposed in order to preserve life? It is the backdrop to the decision that the Government will make today to extend the current regulations. And it is almost certain to rumble on- given that vaccines are not 100% effective, there may be new variants and there is a flu season to come, is it appropriate the continue with limits on our behaviour into next year? Should, as at least one SAGE member has argued, face masks be part of our experience for the rest of our lives? Or do we join the Conservative MPs who argue that we just need to get on with life, even if people die of COVID as a result?
I feel like I have wavered on these questions over the last year- almost, you could say, careering around like a shopping trolley on them. I have fallen back on simply praying that the Government might have wisdom and then doing what they say. But the fact that this is likely to be a significant question for some time to come has made me do some hard thinking. This is my first attempt on this- so please feel free to point out issues that I have missed.
One of the reasons why this discussion is hard is that both the pro-restriction lobby and the lockdown sceptics have Christian principles behind them (albeit not recognised as such). The Christian believes that life is a precious gift from God and that the weak and vulnerable matter to Him. All of us are made in His image and are worthy of protection. It is a good thing when physical illness is alleviated- witness Jesus’ miracles quite apart from anything else. And, for the sake of this issue, it is worth reflecting on what could be termed health and safety in the Bible. In the Old Testament, those with contagious diseases do isolate from the camp (Leviticus 13:45-46). Those building new houses were to take precautions so that people did not fall off their roof (Deuteronomy 22:8). The Bible is clear that life is precious and steps are to be taken to protect it. For that reason, I have not been a complete lockdown sceptic and we have taken all appropriate measures as a church.
There is, though, a Christian argument in the opposite direction. It is the agonising reality that death is inevitable and that we have to accept that. My first pandemic post last March was from Psalm 90. It speaks of life under the judgement of God for we have all failed to give thanks to Him as we ought. God sweeps people away in death (Psalm 90:5). We are given a vague idea of how long life will last- “Our days come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength continues.” (Psalm 90:10). Of course, I rejoice when some within the church have managed to live into their 90s even as I grieve when I have conducted funerals for those who haven’t reached their three score years and ten. But, nevertheless, we are given this rough expectation for a reason- “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” (Psalm 90:12) It is healthy to face the fact that we will die one day and that we cannot stop it. That should drive us to Jesus, the only one who really can defeat death. And in the context of so many steps taken to overcome death, the resurrection of Jesus and the Christian’s resulting freedom to live free from fear is a wonderful message.
What should life look like according to the Bible? We live as those in the image of God- made to enjoy His creation and relate to others. We are called to give thanks to Him and sing His praise. We should acknowledge that we will likely live for 70 or 80 years, use our time wisely and prepare for death by trusting in Jesus.
There are, therefore, Christian streams within both sides of the debate- there are good reasons for an emergency lockdown even as it is impossible to remove death entirely. This is not a subject for simplistic statements and I regret when I have lapsed into them over the last year. But I am now fearing that ongoing restrictions into the future could be a sign of human overreach- a suggestion that we can somehow remove the tragic inevitability of death that God has decreed must happen in this world and which can only be dealt with by Jesus. And that will be troubling if it is a lasting commitment within our culture, especially when it prohibits those things that God has given us, such as faces to express how we feel and the joy of singing His praise.
These are difficult issues- and I accept people may see it differently and, possibly, more clearly. And, though disappointed by a four week extension of regulations, I can live with it. But my fears are of the underlying approach that could last into the months and years ahead. So my prayers are changing- and I am now praying that the Governement will allow us unhindered opportunities for fellowship and praise.