Saturday, August 8, 2020

Don't Worry, Seek God's Kingdom

"Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you."

Before Jesus spoke these famous words, there was a discussion about how God takes care of all the needs of the natural world as well as those in our lives. There is no need for us to worry about having the food and clothing that we need, when our heavenly Father already knows our needs before we know them. He anticipates those needs and makes arrangements for those needs before we are even aware of them.                                                            

God also knows there is a pandemic at play in the world around us. He was not taken by surprise by this virus that has spread around the world. He knew it was about to happen before China even had become aware that something bad might be happening. God knows how many will die from this virus worldwide. He knows how many will get it and survive. He knows it all. We can worry all we like, but our worrying won't change one thing about it. What will be will be. Not because God has foreordained people to die from the Coronavirus, but because we humans are constantly making decisions that impact not only our lives but also the lives of those around us. God is not surprised by our decisions, but neither does he makes us do what he wills unless we agree to abide by his will. He does, however, know whatever changes will take place because we chose to do one thing and not another. He knows who will be affected if we wear a mask as well as who will be affected if we don't, but he doesn't make us do one thing or another.                         

This is where free will and social responsibility intertwine. We get to choose, but our choices will have consequences and we will have to answer for those consequences one day.  If this virus teaches us nothing else, it should teach us how much our actions impact those around us, even if we don't find out until later. People might not drop dead on the street instantly if we don't wear a mask, but someone you interact with may pass it on to you. You may never know you were carrying it and obliviously pass it on to someone else who has a mild case that passes as nothing more than a cold, which isn't enough to make them think that they have Covid-19, so they go to work at a restaurant that has delivery only. Everyone wears a mask at work and washes their hands frequently. Only when this man with the virus is alone in the restroom, he takes off his mask while he's washing his hands, just to get some fresh air and cool off a minute. Only he suddenly sneezes without warning just before a coworker enters the bathroom, and while those droplets are still dancing across the space between them, this coworker drops his mask too just to cool off for a minute and he inhales the virus via the droplets infected with Covid. He doesn't know anything about the sneeze or his co-worker's mild cold. He thinks that since he got negative test results yesterday, he is clear and won't be any danger to his grandmother, who has been invited to his father's 60th birthday party tomorrow. He attends this birthday party and hugs his grandmother, whom he loves dearly and has gone months without seeing her in person, because she has been self-isolating just in case.  Next thing he knows, his grandmother is in the hospital and has died of Covid-19. He certainly didn't mean to kill his grandmother, but since he tested positively recently at work and his father with diabetes is also in the hospital fighting for his life, he realizes that something happened that connects him to his grandmother and his father's illnesses, even though he doesn't know why or how.                                                                                                         
This young man is puzzled how all of this transpired, yet our heavenly Father knows and understands everything. He knows that even the most innocent of actions can result in death and suffering because nothing ever happens in a vacuum. All of our actions have consequences, positive or negative. Even those actions that are not deliberate. The young man didn't murder his grandmother. She died as a result of someone else's careless actions. Someone infected with Covid-19 transmitted it to someone else because neither of them were wearing masks. Ultimately the virus reaches a vulnerable member of our population and she dies suddenly. The family is both surprised and grief stricken, yet God is not surprised because this faithful believer is welcomed by all her loved ones who have passed before her. All the worry surrounding the grandmother is wasted energy. The prayers weren't wasted because those praying drew closer to heaven by those prayers, just as they will draw closer to heaven and the family will draw closer to each other in their shared grief. This is part of the cycle of life. Eventually, the person who has been spreading the disease becomes painfully aware of the suffering all around him. Several members of his family die, several more get very sick and are impacted negatively for months. Finally, he tests and turns up with antibodies, even though he has no recollection of ever being sick.                                                        
Someone else's free will choice had repercussions in the lives of many people. Their free will choice has intertwined with social responsibility and changed the lives of many. Nothing we do is done in a vacuum. Some things we do have very few repercussions in other people's lives. Others have far-reaching consequences that reverberate throughout our home town, our families, and even our country. At few times in our history has this truth been made more real and more dire, and yet people will continue to shun masks, much as some continue to shun condoms when having sex, even though they have a sexually transmitted disease. These people view their personal freedoms as more important than the well being of those they infect.
At no time in history is it more important for us to weigh personal freedoms against social responsibility. In a day when food shortages are very real for the financially vulnerable, we have to consider our actions closely. if we have not been negatively impacted by the pandemic in the area of finances, we need to look around us and see the needs in our community around us. There are people in this rich country who are worried about food and drink and health care. We need to see how we can help. Those who need help  need to be open to receiving it from neighbors and even strangers because all help is ultimately from our Father in heaven, who knows before we do what we need. Our job is to cease worrying about it and start seeking God's kingdom first, discerning what we can do to meet the needs of others during this time of Coronavirus.              
"25 Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air: They do not sow or reap or gather into barns—and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 28 And why do you worry about clothes? Consider how the lilies of the field grow: They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was adorned like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles strive after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Today has enough trouble of its own." (Matthew 6:25-34)                             

So while it may be difficult not to worry, try focusing instead on ways you can relieve the suffering of others. Relieving the suffering of others is always a way to follow God's righteousness. It's a way to couple free will with social responsibility. Just remember to wear a mask and maybe a face shield too. And for heaven's sake, wash your hands and the rest of your body while you're at it. Oh, and you might want to refrain from removing the speck in your brother's eye as well as the log in your own because, you know, that whole need to keep your hands away from your face, as well as someone else's face.