When a Little Good News is Dangerous

Recent news reports have declared that the action taken so far to reduce the spread of the coronavirus in Australia has been so effective that the restrictions imposed to limit its spread are being wound back.  Great news!  But the news must be held alongside the fact that winding back restrictions that have worked so well, must be done very slowly, carefully and with new measures in place to detect and track the virus. Even the best scenario has the virus with us for quite a few months, or even years.

In this period of limitations upon our freedoms, given the measures that are needed to slow the infection rate from the coronavirus, we too often are hearing from some people, particularly in the United States, that we need to ‘open up’ the country as soon as possible in order to minimise the damage to the economy. In fact, some in the U.S. have taken to the streets, armed with automatic weapons, to demand that restrictions on person liberties be lifted. Fortunately, Australia’s leaders have, so far, shown a remarkable degree of common sense; nevertheless, there is pressure within the halls of government from people with a good deal less sense, to hurry and ease restrictions.

This reminds me of Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness, particularly the one about turning the stones to bread. Yes, people are struggling due to a drastic slowing of business activity, some groups more than others, and yes, we will need to get the economy moving again to relieve their anguish.  The temptation offered is to do this as soon as possible, rather than as soon as is safe to do so, and thus be lauded as an economic hero, a ‘milk and honey messiah’.  

If restrictions are lifted to soon or too rapidly, the cost will be additional lives lost, because if there are not measures in place to quickly identify and trace outbreaks, the virus will spread faster, thus posing the risk of overwhelming medical facilities as happened in Italy, Spain and New York City.  Those who favour advancing the timetable to restart the economy know this, but they are willing to put a price on life.  Their position is: If starting up the economy makes it worthwhile, that is, if enough extra money is made to ‘pay’ for the lives lost, then let’s go for it.

Their position shows how primitive we are as a species; how far from Jesus’ ideal of always putting the needs of the other ahead of one’s own. And whilst Jesus certainly taught that we gain life by losing it, I doubt very much that he had in mind giving one’s life for the economy.  I think it was more along the lines of giving one’s life that others may live.

Perhaps an acceptance of the fact that people’s health is more important than the need for money, things, financial security  or any of the other goals to which we often have given priority is one of the lessons we are meant to glean from this pandemic.  Maybe the word ‘meant’ is too strong, but we do have a unique opportunity to savour the values of community, relationship, the bonds that come by battling a common foe together and the joy of sharing both the pain and the gain with one another.  Make the most of it.

Rev. Bob Thomas, 18 April 2020