The candy handover of salvation
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's leading infectious disease expert, recently warned that coronavirus infections could more than double to 100,000 a day. Florida reported 15,300 new cases on Sunday, most in a single day. Epidemiologists keep saying we told you. We should have seen that coming. The expected decline in the summer season turned out to be contradictory when a hot July in the country's hottest southern and western states initiated COVID-19 levels that exceeded last April's highs. The growing pandemic led columnist David Brooks to list COVID-19 as the first of five epic crises in our country. Inspired by the pandemic, he adds giant changes in race, political direction, cultural priorities, and economy – all together to indicate what Brooks calls "moral, spiritual, and emotional disaster."
Left out of this deluge of floods, as a number of commentators note, is the emerging catastrophe of climate change. Meteorologist Paul Douglas from Minneapolis, politically conservative and loving Jesus, keeps repeating the numerous pieces of evidence: CO2 values at a 3 million year high, rising temperatures and sea levels, more rainfalls, longer vegetation periods and crazy weather everywhere. The scripture warns of fire and hunger destruction, an indication of the impending global heat. Jesus and the prophets associated the cosmological catastrophe with wars and conflicts as a harbinger of apocalyptic doom (Deuteronomy 32:22; Mark 13: 8; 2 Pet. 3: 7; Rev. 8: 7). We reap what we sow.
The gospel forecast “a new heaven and a new earth on which justice dwells” triggers a human longing for a new birth (2 Pet. 3:13). "Creation groans" under the weight of this expectation, which is forced into senselessness and frustration while waiting (Rom 8: 19-25). The tensions may be high between now and then, between old and new, but no matter how bad it gets – or how hard or even how good – nothing is comparable to the glory to come (Romans 8:18).
Such a belief for the future may seem childlike – hardly the antidote to an impending "spiritual, moral and emotional catastrophe". But Jesus is clear: "If you do not change and become little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 18.3). Of course, childish belief is neither childish nor simple. New creation as a result of resurrection requires crucifixion, not just for Jesus. Crosses are carried and shared by all of us; Our souls were most intensely and sensibly forged through suffering.
As creatures with low pain thresholds, people prefer workarounds, quick fixes, and symptom relief over basic and systemic changes.
Unfortunately, as creatures with low pain thresholds, humans prefer workarounds, quick fixes, and symptom relief over basic and systemic changes. Part of the problem can be a condensed view of salvation – a tendency to look at yourself through the lens of a "Disney Princess theology" – a chronic tendency to reduce all biblical salvation to a personal transaction between Jesus and me. Exacerbated by the high value of American individualism and the ease of technology, spiritual life happens through a DIY discipleship. Childish, princess desires stand for true childish faith insofar as we cannot even pray as we need for the transformation we need (Romans 8:26). We are convinced that we know best what is best, and we resemble our headstrong spiritual ancestors without a king. Everyone does what they think is right (Judges 17: 6).
I am a beekeeper in the backyard and am currently dealing with stubborn bees without a queen. Without a queen, normal bee life in a beehive becomes apocalyptic. The bees' reflexes activate certain physical changes when they try to save their failing colony. The little buzzers try to fix things by doing the queen's job themselves, a futile task they're not made for. Workers (all of whom are female) lay eggs, but their eggs are not fertilized and therefore hatch as drones, useless male bees who sit on the comb all day and do nothing. Your demise is certain.
Picture: Violet Harrell
The analogy of the futility of a quick DIY exemption might be obvious, if not the fact that queens don't just go away. Queens who are deeply committed to their daughters never get up and whiz away. Queens only die if they are killed, be it by pesticides or the spread of parasites, or in my case by human fear and negligence. I knocked the queen down without realizing it. Most likely I was a little hectic in my beehive management – countless thousands of bees were flying around and threatening to sting – who can see a single queen bee among so many insects swarming in your face? On the other hand, I thought I knew best.
Scripture repeatedly describes human sin as the deadly cause and effect of so much evil, physical and metaphysical, and spits out its toxic emissions throughout creation: a warming and belligerent earth that repeats patterns of oppression, betrayal, and violence that ruin and kill, oust and discriminate. Viruses may not be our fault, but their spread is partly due to extremely poor health planning, political inability and inequality, and poverty in impoverished corners with their own roots in social conflict and injustice. There may be millions of species on Earth, but only one dominates. Human wisdom, ingenuity, and activities do a lot of good, but they also fuel almost every global problem we face.
David Brooks advocates a competent government as a solution, "more C-SPAN than Instagram", as he so cleverly put it. However, a "moral, spiritual and emotional catastrophe" requires more than good government. We know but forget that governments are not God. Governments lie and cannot be trusted. The solution of Scripture is the work of the Spirit, which is shown in the good works of God's people, the "redemption of our body", which has cosmic repercussions that go far beyond individual improvement. The Romans actually use the singular noun body instead of bodies to tell salvation, which causes some scholars to wonder whether Paul has an entire beehive in mind, what he calls the Body of Christ, our common life as communities that serve. From birth we are wired to overcome self-interest and leave our individual selves to greater ends. Only when you lose yourself can your whole self be realized (Mt 10:39). Psychologists draw an analogy from bees and call them "the beehive switch".
A beehive survives because its whole is so much bigger than every single member. The same applies to Christians as a church, to population groups as civilizations and to people as people. Only when we recognize our greater unity with Christ as the queen bee and surrender to it – beyond the self-interest in the interest of common goodness – will we only experience the true honey of the new creation that Jesus promises. Christianity views crises as crosses – be they viral, racial, political, cultural, economic, ecological, or all at once – that must be borne with self-sacrifice, due repentance and grace. And since crosses are always subject to resurrection, we trust that God will do everything for the good of all of us.
Daniel Harrell is Christianity today Editor-in-chief.