This coronavirus that began overwhelming China, then exploded in Italy and Iran, took Americans by complete surprise. But even before regular life started to shut down, many of us went into meltdown, though not for the reasons I initially thought.
In droves, people began ransacking their local stores and draining internet retailers of face masks and toilet paper, seemingly caught in a hysteria. The face masks (insufficient though many may be) made some sense—who wants to contract a potentially deadly virus? But the toilet paper? What was happening?
As stores have been working feverishly to restock their shelves, staples like eggs and milk are in short supply. People, now out of work and practicing some semblance of self-quarantine, are spending an overabundance of time and money to prepare for what apparently, to them, is the coronapocolypse—and it seems “hunker down” actually means “hoard.” But though death and suffering are tragic, the virus has infected and killed an infinitesimal number of people—it is not wiping out half the planet. So what, exactly, are we afraid of? Why are we trying to hoard? What, actually, is going on?
I started to put it together when I realized that a large swath of Americans are actually not taking the virus or even the concept of “social distancing” seriously. They see the numbers: our chances of contracting the virus are practically nothing, and, if we do catch it, our chances of dying from it are low—especially so if we’re young and healthy. So while many are hoarding toilet paper, those same people are also beleaguered by the closings of schools, work places, restaurants and entertainment venues. And seeing this disparity made me realize that many are not afraid of the virus at all—we are afraid of the effects of the virus on our level of normalcy and comfort.
Our collective reaction, then, has not ultimately been one of fear, but of selfishness. We aren’t afraid of contracting the virus and dying—we are afraid there won’t be enough toilet paper to go around. We pillage our local grocery stores not because we are afraid we will starve, but because some of us cannot bear the uncertainty of how going without might make us feel—and that panic snowballs so that the rest of us feel the need to react, or risk being left behind. Our selfishness is manifesting as fear, and motivating us toward self-preservation at the expense of others.
We should not ignore the reality of the long-term economic impact this virus may very well leave behind—the virus will touch an exponentially higher number of people in this way than through the actual disease itself. But we should also be careful with how we conduct ourselves and the decisions we make concerning over-purchasing and “flattening the curve”—not for ourselves, but out of love and concern for the more vulnerable among us. Though the loss of life to this virus may well yet be dwarfed by that taken by the annual, seasonal flu, the two cannot be compared. This coronavirus can be transmitted by carriers with no obvious symptoms, and starts to hit far too many people at once. The potential shut down of overrun hospitals ought to outweigh the temporary inconvenience of being shut up in our homes. It should not be a choice between who is going to die, and who has the most paper products.
The reality is that even without COVID-19 or any other panic-inducing pathogen, we are all already fully infected—with selfishness. It is a disease each one of us has carried since birth, and there is not now—nor will there ever be—an earthly cure. Without knowing the life and love of the Messiah Yeshua, we cannot help but respond to our flesh, and put our own perceived needs first. But if we know Yeshua, then we have the choice to build up an immunity to selfishness by acting in love toward others, and trusting that our Master sees all our needs. In Yeshua, we must fearlessly practice self-restraint, and remember that over-reaction in any situation cannot yield godly results. Selfishness, and the fear it produces, does not come from God. These can only be overcome by love.
You may be worried about the health of your family, your job security, being able to make rent, and avoiding a recession, but you must respond to those worries with actions that put your own concerns last. Pockets of compassion do exist—to say nothing of our brave medical workers—but people looking after strangers appears to be the exception, not the rule. If even the chance that what millions of us can do will spare thousands, we must do it. If what each one of us can do touches the lives of our neighbors, how can we legitimately choose to walk in selfishness?
“[Do] nothing in selfish ambition or in conceit, but in humility of mind, counting one another higher than yourselves—each of you not looking to your own things, but each also to the things of others.” Philippians 2:3-4 (MJLT)
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