By Kevin Shrum
Pastor, Inglewood Baptist Church, Nashville
I know a man who lived through the Great Depression. He saved everything — empty milk cartons, non-perishable foods, reams of toilet paper, etc. He was the first “prepper” I ever met even though he wasn’t a “doomsday prepper.”
If you asked him why he saved all these things he would simply say, “You never know when you’ll need it.” The Great Depression had marked him by teaching him to save everything during a time of great economic upheaval and scarcity, conditioning his thoughts and behaviors for generations to come.
The COVID-19 pandemic is marking us, conditioning our thoughts and behaviors in ways we’re not even aware of. When our grandchildren ask, “Why does Grandpa do that (… just fill in the blank)?” The answer will simply be, “Oh, he lived during the Great COVID Pandemic of the 20s. That’s why Grandpa does crazy things.”
How is COVID marking us?
It is marking us scientifically and medically. One thing we know for sure after 18 months of this pandemic is that we know very few things for sure.
While we do know a few things about this virus, because the “science” has been ever-changing we have developed a skepticism of the scientific experts that will cause us to doubt these same experts in the future. Two weeks to stop the spread of the virus turned into 18 months of a pandemic with no end in sight; two weeks of trust turned into 18 months of distrust.
It is marking us politically, further convincing us that we can neither trust our political leaders nor the political processes we heretofore have trusted. To deal with a pandemic medically is one thing, but to see people ‘politicize’ a health crisis for personal gain is the height of political narcissism.
It is marking us economically. Financial systems we once thought were secure have been called into question. In addition, the pandemic exposed the fact that most Americans are not in good financial condition, living paycheck to paycheck. This kind of living works until it doesn’t. Financial insecurity and dependency is now the norm.
It is marking us educationally. In ten years when we ask why ‘little Johnny’ can’t read our answer will be, “Little Johnny basically missed two or three years of schooling when it mattered because of the pandemic.” Further, colleges and universities were exposed as financially insolvent when all the “streams of revenue” dried up because students were not on campus, thereby making it difficult to justify student fees of all kinds — fees schools depend on.
It is marking us institutionally. Institutional trust was already on the decrease. Most people do not trust institutions — government, schools, companies, churches, etc. Why trust institutions when they have appeared to lie to the public, misused monies and enriched themselves at the expense of the common person?
The pandemic caused vast segments of the American public to only deepen their distrust and skepticism of a variety of institutions who were supposed to be looking after the best interests of the public good but, in the end, were only looking after the good of a small, privileged segment of society.
It is marking us relationally. Lines have been drawn, families have been divided, and friendships have been ruined because of this pandemic. Everyone has strong opinions about everything. It is “us” versus “them.” We used to have friends of all different persuasions, even when we didn’t agree on some things — we found ways to disagree agreeably. Is this even possible now? We’re now divided by issues like: to mask or not mask, to vaccinate or not vaccinate, by red state and blue state issues. We are more guarded and less open to friendships of all kinds.
It is marking us rationally. As time has progressed reason has been jettisoned. Rational thinking has given way to irrational vitriol. Rather than having reasonable conversations about the issues of the day — CRT, racism, masks, vaccines, etc., we are losing our ability to think clearly and to argue civilly. Intellectual sides have been taken; war has been declared. Ideas have consequences and we are now reaping the reward of the idea of a strident individualism where everyone does what is right in their own eyes even if irrational and non-sensical. Irrational thinking has replaced reasoned truth.
Finally, it is marking us spiritually. Many have lost their spiritual bearings, that is, if they had any to begin with. Among God’s people the fear has been palpable, irrational at times. Just the possibility of dying due to COVID has caused fear, anxiety, and depression to reach all-time highs.
When all is said and done, what ought to mark the believer is a deep and abiding faith in a sovereign God who controls all things — even this virus —and in the transforming power of the gospel. While the world is marked by fear we are marked by faith. When the world is marked by skepticism we are marked by the wisdom and prudence of biblical truth. When the world is marked by distrust and division we are marked by hope and warm-hearted friendship. And, when the world is marked by lies and deception we are marked by grace and truth. B&R