COVID-19, Wilderness and Man

I read a detailed, interesting article this morning about COVID-19 (the new coronavirus) that helped me understand the current status better. I have no way of knowing whether the article is correct except that it seems reasonable to me and consistent with other things I’ve read that seem reasonable to me.

I mention that because, aside from the actual public health concerns caused by COVID-19, it’s been interesting to me to watch the wrestling match for authoritativeness that has been going on over this topic.

Only a very small minority of people is actually qualified to speak authoritatively on this topic, and yet they do not all seem to agree on certain questions related to it. I’m seeing doctors (including multiple epidemiologists) effectively saying, “The time for radical measures is now” and “There is no need to panic” and “Don’t panic, but we need to do radical things” and “Don’t panic, radical measures are not required, just common sense.” Whom should I believe?

Isn’t this so often the case now? It is sometimes said that we have a crisis of expertise in our time, that fewer people believe what experts say. But what do you do when there are multiple experts who disagree? Or if you don’t know how to tell who’s the real expert?

We tend to go with what confirms our biases and tendencies, because those messages seem most reasonable to us, most plausible. Yet if there’s anything that we ought to learn as we grow up and mature, it’s that what seems reasonable to us may really not be true.

Ancient, Medieval and Renaissance man saw himself as continually threatened by a hostile world that he could never fully understand nor defend against. Civilization could not conquer the wilderness, and sometimes what was wild would invade and destroy civilization.

And while there are many dangers our ancestors faced which are not really a big deal for us, we are still threatened by earthquake, storm and virus. Yet we somehow believe that civilization can conquer the wilderness. But when the wildness comes to us, we do not seem able to conquer the wilderness of our own thoughts.

I genuinely hope that solutions are found for our current wildness that is threatening us. And I believe that they will be.

But man cannot subsist on this Pelagian sensibility that he can be saved on his own merits. I do believe that he will always rebuild, always adapt, always move forward, but isn’t it telling that we always race for our preferred authorities in times of crisis?

Things will settle out in this crisis and competing authorities will finally converge on a consensus. But our problem with the hostile wilderness will remain.

This life is not all there is, and the wildness will never be fully kept out in this life.

Yet we have a Lord Who will walk with us into the wilderness and will keep the demons from us. And if we die, we die unto the Lord and await the resurrection.

The wildness will never be gone from this life. There is nothing wrong with trying to adapt to it and limit damage in our material way. But if we do not read this in a higher, clearer way, we are missing what is most vital: In the face of the threatening of this world, we should be driven to prayer and repentance.

But here’s the key thing: We do not pray and repent as a form of religion-based technology to solve our problems (the “thoughts and prayers” often mocked by the unbelieving). Rather, prayer and repentance are for addressing our greatest, final need — that without God we can do nothing, that if we do not participate in God’s works, we are participating in demonic works.

We are not made simply to subsist in this world and keep going and flourishing as best as we are able. We are meant to be sons of God, added to the heavenly hosts. And we can become that only by drawing close to the unique Son of God in times both of peace and when the wildness is found in our midst.

2 comments:

  1. Fr Andrew, I appreciate your thoughts. It reminds me of the importance of asking who do I trust when making decisions. This question is something that I pondered extensively when approaching Orthodox Christianity, and when writing this response. The answer is always Christ. The question is almost as important as the answer and is spiritual medicine that cures Nihilism, pessimism, and skepticism, which often faced when trying to ascertain the wilderness.

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