Exhausted: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
I’m not sure about everybody else, but I’m officially exhausted.
I’m exhausted by the pandemic restrictions. I’m tired of wearing a mask; tired of social distancing; tired of Zoom meetings. This is the first year in over 35 years that I have not been to see my friends in the UK and France. I miss being able to gather with other believers and participate with them in the Eucharist. I resent that every outing for groceries or other staples has to be planned like a military operation. When out, I eye the person not wearing a mask with suspicion and, to be honest, self righteous disdain. I’m wearied by what the restrictions are doing to me, what it is doing to others and how it makes me think of others.
I’m exhausted by politics. I voted early and, to be honest, I want it to be over. I’m tired of the vitriol. I’m especially wearied and saddened by those who have decided to make how you cast your vote a litmus test of your faith. As I’ve said elsewhere, neither the election of Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden will usher in a “new heaven and new earth”. While each of us my have certain biblical principles which bind our conscience, seeking to use those principles to bind the conscience of others through bullying or super-spiritual posturing is simply wrong. When I cast my vote last week, it was with the realization that it was very much participating in the temporal life of the City of Man. As such, my vote was informed by issues of justice and, with what can be known, the character of the candidates.
As much as I am exhausted by the pandemic and politics, I am also concerned and, to be frank, horrified at what comes next. The numbers of those infected with the virus are spiking in most states. Almost 220,000 Americans have died, and the number is rising. A second surge appears to be gathering strength and, we should note, the virus is indifferent to our politics and our weariness with wearing masks and social distancing. As to politics, while I might hope that all this will be over in November, I have my doubts. I’m not talking about counting the votes. I’m talking about reckoning with the spiritual and psychological costs of our political involvement and partisanship that may well mark us for years to come. Outrage is as addictive as any drug… and we’ve become accustomed to it. In the Christian community, there have been far too many lines drawn in the sand to be quickly forgotten. Indeed, we have made Christian division over politics and/or how we respond to the pandemic a brutal art.
Of course, the Church has faced such moments before.
From what we know, the first pandemic of the Christian era appears to have been the Antonine smallpox outbreak that raged across the Roman empire between 165 and 180. It is estimated that over five million died. Some seventy years later, during the political upheavals of the mid-third century, the so-called “Plague of Cyprian” broke out in 249. Again, thought to be some variety of smallpox, the pandemic lasted for twenty years. At its peak, over 5,000 a day died in the city of Rome alone.
What is said by and about the Church and how it reacted to the pandemics and the politics of the day is of interest.
Firstly, no mention is made of the political involvement of Christians. Nor is any mention made of Christians withdrawing themselves from the societies in which they lived. Indeed, Cyprian of Carthage made the following observation:
“There is nothing remarkable in cherishing merely our own people with the due attentions of love, but that one might become perfect, he who should do something more than heathen men or publicans; overcoming evil with good, and practicing a merciful kindness like that of God, he should love his enemies as well…Thus the good was done to all men, not merely to the household of faith.”
This, by the way was not just a local phenomena. When Dionysius of Alexandria describes the pandemic in his city he does so in graphic terms:
“At the first onset of the disease, they pushed the sufferers away and fled from their dearest, throwing them into the roads before they were dead and treating unburied corpses as dirt, hoping thereby to avert the spread and contagion of the fatal disease; but do what they might, they found it difficult to escape…”
Dionysius, however, then goes on to describe the response of the Christians in the city:
“Most of our brother Christians showed unbounded love and loyalty, never sparing themselves and thinking only of one another. Heedless of danger, they took charge of the sick, attending to their every need and ministering to them in Christ, and with them departed this life serenely happy; for they were infected by others with the disease, drawing on themselves the sickness of their neighbors and cheerfully accepting their pains. Many, in nursing and curing others, transferred their death to themselves and died in their stead…”
Now, admittedly, we are in a different situation with regard to the Covid-19 pandemic. We have at least a reasonable idea of how this particular disease spreads. So, perhaps we cannot provide first responder care. We can, however, emulate the attitude of these early believers. The Gospels that we read are the same as those that were heard by those believers in the second and third centuries. To put it simply, the response that they chose to the politics and pandemics of their day was not outrage, or division, or insisting upon their “rights”. It was love and service, not just to the household of faith, but to all who were created in the image of God… even enemies. That may mean forgoing our “rights” for the sake of the common good. It may mean obeying our state regulations and medical advice for the sake of others. It may even mean leaving our politics at the door…
I’m exhausted. I would guess most people are, but it is a time in which we cannot afford to “be weary in well doing…”