The wisdom of Solomon is time-tested, but these days it’s timely practical wisdom: “There is a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing” (Eccl 3:5).
This advice is necessary to avoid spreading the COVID-19 virus. We aren’t designed to live in isolation. It goes against our grain. For Christians, it flies in the face of everything that defines us as the body of Christ: we individual members are all united in one common bond of love. “We love,” wrote the disciple whom Jesus loved, “because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
Isolation for Love’s Sake
What does all this mean when we are warned to keep six feet away from other humans? To confine ourselves to gatherings of no more than ten? An ordinary handshake is forbidden, for God’s sake, much less a holy kiss (1 Pet 5:14; 2 Cor 12:13).
As I write, my wife and I are in lockdown—not because the two of us are ill, but because elderly folks are most susceptible to peril. Since schools are closed, we’re the only viable option for care of several grandchildren. Yet, when my four-year-old granddaughter leans in for a hug, she must be told, “Not today, honey.”
It breaks my heart. I can’t begin to imagine visiting a dying parent through a window or via video screen. How would we experience a virtual wedding? Or, perish the thought, a funeral?
At the moment, such is the price of love. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Right now, for a season, we distance ourselves socially for love’s sake.
Hope for Love’s Sake
We don’t know when these Lenten days will fade away to Easter gladness. But whenever, by God’s grace, this long fast becomes a joyous feast, then perhaps we will really learn the priceless value of a good hug. Maybe then we will have the courage to rebel against our culture’s damnable addiction to individualism and learn to live together again in genuine community—dividing our sorrows and multiplying joys as we open up our hearts to one another. Two are better than one; conversation leads to consolation. I hope you’re already learning how to better share the good things you’ve been given with those who have little—and I’m talking about more than toilet paper.
But this is my fondest hope. Maybe this mad nightmare will teach us to prize the throbbing heart of our life together: gathering each and every Lord’s Day. Together, we hear his living word and receive his sacramental gifts so our faith comes alive in love in this world—and for all eternity in the world to come. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Heb 10:24–25)
This guest post was written by Harold L. Senkbeil, author of The Care of Souls: Cultivating a Pastor’s Heart (Lexham Press, 2019).