Much debate has ensued over the past couple of months as to God’s role (or lack thereof) in the current pandemic. Whether the pandemic is seen as God’s explicit or permissive will, or whether God has created an autonomous world in where certain things require human or natural intervention to change, there has been no end to the questions and opinions on this matter.
Despite all of this, it is extremely unlikely that we as a people will gain the absolute confirmation on this topic that we are seeking. Yet in the midst of our uncertainty, it does not, nor should not, prevent us from finding meaning and clarity amid the struggle. As Ross Douthat recently stated in a New York Times editorial, “meaningless suffering is the goal of the devil, and bringing meaning out of suffering is the saving work of God.”
As the pandemic persists, it does appear, though, that general themes are emerging that suggest keys for all of us in finding meaning during this difficult time. One of these themes is our need to empathize with others in difficult straits, which I detailed here. But beyond this, there are other messages that are forthcoming:
1) Nothing replaces direct human contact. Nothing.
There is a curious thing that seems to be occurring, especially with the younger population. As we all have become more isolated from each other, and relying more on virtual platforms to keep connected, it seems that we are all becoming increasingly aware that nothing takes the place of being in the presence of others and absorbing each other through our senses.
In my own home, I have seen our oldest kids go through “friend withdrawal,” and I increasingly know of teens who are tired of connecting online; many teachers are tired of e-learning, and friends can’t wait to get together (not just virtually). Although certainly using technology as a means of communication will always remain to some extent, it may have taken a pandemic to remind us that truly being with each other is impossible to replace.
2) Some aspects of health are uncontrollable; but for those that aren’t, we have a responsibility to take this seriously.
Long before the coronavirus came to the U.S., another epidemic had seized the country. Years ago, complications from obesity officially became the No. 1 cause of death. Despite this dire reality and the fact this trend threatens to bankrupt our health-care system, a peculiar reality exists.
As it was noted in the introduction to a recent American Psychologist article on obesity, Americans seem “somewhat ambivalent” about the obesity epidemic, “often seeing obesity as a cosmetic issue most appropriately addressed by personal responsibility” (pg. 136). Yet, as was posed in a 2013 National Geographic article entitled “Sugar Love,” “Why do 1/3 of adults [worldwide] have high blood pressure [U.S. statistics are now around 46%], when in 1900 only 5% had high blood pressure?” Whatever the answer, a link is emerging between the pandemic and these health issues that we might want to consider even further. For example, increasing evidence is finding that those with high blood pressure are at greater risk to get COVID-19, to have worse symptoms, and to die from this condition. In Italy, statistics indicate that 76% of people who died from the coronavirus had high blood pressure. Certainly some that have suffered and died from the virus did so without any preventability, but we certainly have to wonder if our ambivalence toward preventable health conditions will now be taken more seriously.
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