In my first year of my Economics degree at Sydney University I was ‘taught’ the ‘Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility’ which is a theory in economics that predicts that at some point optimal level of capacity is reached so that adding an additional unit will actually result in smaller increases in satisfaction. A simple analogy would be consuming so much pizza that you reach a level where you are no longer enjoying it and, in actual fact, eating more has a negative (diminishing) enjoyment effect. You reach a state of satiety.
So, how much of COVID-19 can we take before it loses its ‘fear’ impact? In other words, have we reached, or reaching, a COVID-19 immunity worldview due to pandemic fatigue and pandemic anger?
One US epidemiologist from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota is of the view that the public has said they are done with the virus but he adds, unfortunately, this virus isn’t done with us. He thinks the next 12 weeks will be the darkest days of the pandemic.
Such doom and gloom shifts our thoughts to the biblical prophets. From Jeremiah 13, “Give glory to the LORD your God before he brings the darkness, before your feet stumble on the darkening hills. You hope for light, but he will turn it to utter darkness and change it to deep gloom” (v. 16).
As much as we wince at such movement from God, we must admit, if we’re honest, that suffering, hardship and failure—the things that expose our weaknesses— are the very things that emphatically display God’s power and recalibrate our affections. Even the most cynical sceptic will cry to the Lord in deep trouble. Yet once God comes through, we’re through with God until next time – funny that. Nothing dampens faith like getting prayers answered. As long as the Israelites wandered the dry desert, they earnestly relied on the Lord for daily bread. But once they reached the promised land with bakeries on every corner, God took a back seat to self-serving idols. In Luke’s gospel ten lepers pleaded to be healed of their leprosy, but as soon as Jesus did it, nine of them disappeared without so much as a word of appreciation.
God knows that whenever the weak get strong, power gets corrupted and grace gets abused. Corrupted power and abused grace are a constant theme of the prophets. The abuse of grace doesn’t end with them, of course. History repeats like a broken record.
As churches find themselves on the viral ropes and wondering whether to throw in the towel, a surrendering of strength and stepping out of the ring may be what it takes for us to find our true strength in Jesus. It’s long been argued that the church cannot make a difference in the world unless it is different from the world. Jeremiah’s answer for the enculturated Israelites was exile; expulsion for the sake of embrace, failure for the sake of faith. Israel’s exile opened their eyes to how far they had capitulated to worldly affluence and entitlement which as God’s people they had been redeemed to resist.
The most significant work of the gospel happens when the church refuses to seek celebrity limelight and political power, when it takes counter-cultural risks, when it refuses to buy into the things that can be bought. God goes so far as to make himself a humble and impoverished working-class carpenter, crucified on a cross in order to save the world. The church, as the embodiment of Jesus, must abide according to the cross-shaped, Christian pattern of humility and failure, ironic power and radical grace, subversive righteousness and justice with love. The church makes a difference in the world when we are different from the world. Acta non verba.
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