For me, it all started in Colombia, South America, this unnerving process of awakening to a foreign crisis becoming a personal concern, of watching COVID-19 jump from “their” neighborhood to our neighborhood.
I was volunteering at a soup kitchen for Venezuelan refugees, just inside Colombia near a border crossing that sees thousands of people daily. With every cough and sniffle that foreigners often receive in alien climates, we jokingly updated other kitchen staff on the status of our “coronavirus”.
Ere long, the administration of the kitchen sent us a notice to wash hands frequently and keep our hands away from our faces. Next, the prime minister of my home country (Canada) issued a clear call for all citizens abroad to return home while commercial flights were still operating. Then the mission administration shut the kitchen down and asked us all to return home. As the reactions from on high continued to fall around me in circles that tightened daily, I began to do my fair share of the hemmed-in evaluating that we’ve all been doing ever since.
The prime minister, above all people in the country, thinks he must maintain a good face, I thought. He needs to get with the flow as most other politicians must with climate change and marriage rights. The administration of the kitchen I had grown to love? Were they really thinking as deep and hard as they ought in making this sudden call? Why couldn’t we be more long-suffering with the situation instead of just closing our gate to the needy?
These in their turn gave way to larger and more significant questions. What are the chances that a key Chinese infectious disease lab just happens to be in Wuhan? What does the precipitant closure of all places of worship say about our government’s attitude towards faith? The questions that churned within me began to cross paths with suppositions that were floating out there in general. Suppositions that jabbed furtive fingers in places that ranged in likeliness from upcoming elections to forthcoming 5G networks.
And then I asked a question that stopped me in my tracks.
“Who is to blame?”
Suddenly all the conjectures, sane and insane, found instant unity in this one simple question. I blushed–the baseness of my quest was exposed.
As the global crisis continues to unfold, new questions of culpability will come to seek acquaintance with us. There will be, among others, questions of government competence and questions of public behavior. Don’t be surprised in the least to see these queries morph through various stages of development into accusations. And always, my friend, seek the question behind the questions.
We betray our thirst for blame. Have we no better pursuit than the pursuit of blameworthiness?
We reveal our thirst for justice. That was a good and pure pursuit until we decided that retribution must usually land somewhere outside ourselves.
Here’s a breaking bit of news: we stand with the original couple in the original sin that brings death and disease to this planet every day. This is a hard truth and highly inconvenient. Our self-protective instincts arise within and fight to keep this crippling culpability at bay. It is an order of magnitude easier to judge people in removed ivory towers of government than it is to judge ourselves. The apostles were well aware of this when they exhorted us repeatedly to honor and pray for our governments.¹ How quickly we skirt their warnings.
This is not to say that we owe our governments the absolute trust and loyalty which we owe King Jesus. Nor do I wish that we would avoid a close following of the scientific research. These days many of us have extra time for reflection, and we use this time well in the studious evaluation of the unfolding evidence.
But we have been quick to fear the effect while ignoring the cause. More dangerous than any effect of sin is the sin itself. This includes the sin of blame-shifting. I would join the voice of Scripture and plead with all who follow the King to cease from selfish blame.²
A Christian has a higher calling, a more noble pursuit than that of blame. We discard our own precious story-line when we forget that we have been redeemed from blame to praise. From blame, because we see our individual culpability in the original sin. To praise, because we see that the only One with the authority to blame has decided to lift that impossible burden from our backs.
Oh you who have been released from the blame that was due you, will you now whitewash your culpability and throw it without mercy onto others? Or will you be found standing faithful in the middle of the fray, responsible and ready to be an agent of kindness in the mess for which you share the blame?
¹ 1Peter 2:13-17; Titus 3:1; 1Timothy 2:1-2; 2Peter 2:10; Romans 13:1-7
² Romans 12:10; Philippians 2:3