Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, recently warned that coronavirus infections could more than double to 100,000 a day. On Sunday, Florida reported 15,300 new cases, the most of any state in a single day. Epidemiologists keep saying we told you so. We should have seen this coming. The anticipated summer-season wane proved contrary as a hot July in the country’s hottest Southern and Western states ushered in COVID-19 levels surpassing the highs of last April. The ever-burgeoning pandemic coaxed columnist David Brooks to list COVID-19 as first among five epic crises facing our country. Piling on with the pandemic he adds gigantic changes related to race, political alignment, cultural priorities, and economics—all compounding to portend what Brooks labels a “moral, spiritual and emotional disaster.”
Left out of this deleterious deluge, as noted by a profusion of commenters, is the ever-looming cataclysm of climate change. Minneapolis meteorologist Paul Douglas, politically conservative and Jesus loving, reiterates over and over the multiple strands of evidence—CO2 levels at a 3-million-year high, temperatures and sea levels rising, rains falling harder, growing seasons longer, and crazy weather everywhere. Scripture warns of destruction by fire and famine, a portent, perhaps, of global heat to come. Jesus and the prophets tied cosmological catastrophe to wars and strife as harbingers of apocalyptic doom (Deut. 32:22; Mark 13:8; 2 Pet. 3:7; Rev. 8:7). We reap what we sow.
The gospel forecast of “a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells” induces human longing for new birth (2 Pet. 3:13). “Creation groans” under the weight of that expectancy, forced into futility and frustration as it waits (Rom. 8:19–25). 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 compares to the glory to come (Rom. 8:18).
Such faith for the future may seem childlike to some—hardly the antidote for a pending “spiritual, moral and emotional disaster.” Yet Jesus is clear: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). To be sure, childlike faith is not childish nor easy. New creation as the upshot of resurrection demands crucifixion, and not just for Jesus. Crosses are borne and shared by us all; our souls forged most intensely and meaningfully by suffering.
As creatures with low thresholds for pain, humans prefer workarounds, a quick-fix salvation, and symptom relief rather than fundamental and systemic change.
Alas, as creatures with low thresholds for pain, humans prefer workarounds, a quick-fix salvation, and symptom relief rather than fundamental and systemic change. Part of the problem can be a truncated view of salvation—a tendency to view oneself through the lens of a “Disney princess theology”—a chronic proclivity for reducing the entirety of Biblical salvation down to a personal transaction between Jesus and me. Exacerbated by the high value of American individualism and the ease of technology, the spiritual life happens by way of a DIY discipleship. Childish, princess wishes stand in for true childlike faith to the extent we can’t even pray as we ought for the transformation we need (Rom. 8:26). Convinced we know best what’s best, we resemble our wayward spiritual forebears without a king, everyone doing as they saw fit (Judges 17:6).
I’m a backyard beekeeper, and I’m currently dealing with wayward bees without a queen. Without a queen, normal bee life in a hive turns apocalyptic. Worker bees’ reflexes activate certain bodily changes as they attempt to rescue their doomed colony. The little buzzers try to fix things by taking on the queen’s job themselves, a futile task they’re not built to do. Worker bees (which are all female) start laying eggs, but their eggs are not fertilized and therefore hatch as drones, useless male bees that just sit on the comb all day doing nothing. Their doom is sure.
Image: Violet Harrell
The analogy to the futility of quick-fix, DIY deliverance might be obvious, were it not for the fact that queens don’t just disappear. Deeply devoted to their daughters, queens never get up and buzz off. Queens die only when killed, whether by pesticides or the proliferation of parasites, or in my case, human anxiety and carelessness. I crushed the queen without realizing it. Most likely, I got a little frantic in my hive management—countless thousands of bees flying around all at once and threatening to sting—who can see a single queen bee among so many insects swarming in your face? Then again, I thought I knew best.
Scripture continually indicts human sin as the deadly cause and effect of so much evil, physically and metaphysically, spewing its toxic emissions all over creation: a warming and warring earth, repeating patterns of oppression, betrayal and violence that ruin and kill, displace and discriminate. Viruses may not be our fault, but their proliferation is due in part to a woefully deficient health care planning, political ineptitude and inequities, and poverty in impoverished corners with its own roots in social strife and injustice. Earth may be home to millions of species, but only one dominates. Human cleverness, inventiveness, and activities accomplish great good, to be sure, but they also drive most every global problem we face.
David Brooks argues for competent government as a solution, “more C-SPAN than Instagram” as he so cleverly put it. But a “moral, spiritual and emotional disaster” requires more than good government. We know but forget that governments are not God. Governments lie and cannot be trusted. Scripture’s solution is the work of the Spirit evidenced in the good works of God’s people, the “redemption of our bodies” which carry cosmic ramifications far beyond individual betterment. Romans actually uses the singular noun body rather than bodies in narrating redemption, leading some scholars to wonder whether Paul has a whole hive in mind, what he calls the body of Christ, our life together as communities who serve. From birth, we are wired to transcend self-interest, to surrender our individual selves to greater purposes. Only by losing your self can your whole self be realized (Matt. 10:39). Psychologists draw an analogy from bees and call it making “the hive switch.”
A beehive survives because its whole is so much greater than any individual member. The same is true for Christians as church, and for populations as civilizations, and for human beings as humanity. Only when we recognize and surrender to our greater oneness with Christ as queen bee—rising above self-interest in the interest of common goodness—only then do we experience the true honey of the new creation Jesus promises. Christian faith views crises as crosses—be they viral, racial, political, cultural, economic, ecological, or everything all at once—to be borne with self-sacrifice, due repentance, and grace. And as crosses are always subject to resurrection, we trust God will work all of it for the good of us all.
Daniel Harrell is Christianity Today’s editor in chief.