Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
For a year and a half, many tried to starve the coronavirus into submission through masking, social distancing, and vaccination. But now the Delta variant roars back with a vengeance. Why? Because too many refuse to join a necessarily collective effort to deny the virus access to vulnerable human bodies.
Here in America, the virus takes a greater toll than most anywhere else. And here, we cherish our constitutional right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” From the American Revolution to the debacle in Afghanistan, our soldiers fight and die, we believe, to protect our freedom. So what is freedom?
A huge critical mass of Americans act as if freedom comes down to the right to do as I please without interference from anyone else. That seems the functioning definition, correct or not.
Under that definition, many gather in stores, stadiums, and churches unvaccinated and unmasked to proudly do as they please without government sanction. However, down the street in the local hospital, the suddenly afflicted pack the ER to standing room only. The ICU turns away very sick people because no beds remain with most occupied by unvaccinated COVID patients. In America, we long ago mastered the art of making sickness and death invisible. So just a short walk from the hospital, we gather and even sing unmasked, oblivious.
Many mix patriotism and piety until they fail to see the most obvious contradictions in the mix. In a word inherited from Hebrew prophets and Jesus Christ, James 1:27 reads:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
A mature person of faith does not get vaccinated, wear a mask, and practice social distancing solely for their own health. They do it because it protects the most vulnerable, symbolized often in scripture as orphans and widows.
The meek whom Jesus blessed are not the wimps or conformists. Rather, they exercise their God-given strength gently and lovingly with an eye on justice for the vulnerable, even when that is unpopular. Which it appears to be in most of America.
Many who call themselves Christian dismiss masks and vaccines citing freedom to do as they please. Secular culture may have no basis to offer any deeper concept of freedom than that. But it is not the Christian concept of freedom.
God made us to give our lives away. That seems an empirical fact as much as a theological assertion. Everyone worships something or someone, for better or worse. Everyone sacrifices their freedom to do as they please for another no matter how hard some try to avoid it. Among the gods we choose, God alone rewards that sacrifice with more freedom, not less.
The only freedom worth dying for is a freedom well-employed, a freedom exercised not because I can, but because I love. Freedom not only from constraint, but freedom for love is freedom worth giving my life to protect.
Getting vaccinated, wearing masks in indoor public places, and practicing social distancing add up to a modest form of such self-giving. But it counts, and it matters. Tremendously.
Apparently, we humans — or at least we Americans — cannot realize and practice such higher freedom on our own power. Only God can get us there. Or catastrophe, hitting bottom as a nation. May the meek God have mercy on us and get us there gently.