At the front of political and cultural discourse is a conversation about life, particularly, how to save and protect life in light of coronavirus. In our age of mounting divisive rhetoric, the ability to hold two positions in tension is of utmost importance. Over the past few months, I have noticed a heightened sense of longing to protect and preserve life when it comes to coronavirus. Phrases such as, “Stop the spread! Flatten the curve! Stay home!” dominate everything from mainstream news to billboards. I first and foremost want to affirm that this falls in line with the biblical ideal—that we protect and preserve life, for all mankind has been made in the image of God (Gen 1:27). Every life is worthy of such honorable pursuit.
Yet, the inability to have a charitable dialogue is stifling a broader view of what constitutes life. At this given moment, individuals in various positions are simply not listening to one another. One camp wants to continue to preserve life by continuing the stay-at-home orders, while one camp wants to open the country so economic, emotional, and mental health may prosper. Unfortunately, since we are unable to listen with humility and respond with charity, neither position gains traction but simply digs their heels in further. My hope and prayer for the church I serve (Coram Deo) is that God would shape us into a people that are slow to speak, quick to listen, and abundant in grace and charity.
Life is also Living
This leads to my proposition: in our current system, when the majority of Americans use the word “life,” particularly in the Covid-19 pandemic, the word is limited and stifled. The narrative has been all about protecting and preserving life, which, in this case, means physical life. Yet, we all know that simply being alive is not all that it means to be alive. We understand very acutely that the quality of life we possess is in direct correlation to our value of “life”. For example, there is a reason when we are in a terrible job or relationship we often use the phrase, “This job/relationship is killing me.” This is because the job/relationship is inflicting death upon our souls, even though we are still physically living.
Personally, I want to do everything I can to help limit the spread of Covid-19 and therefore, protect and preserve physical life. At the same time, I want to acknowledge that the attempts to stave off physical death are also creating more physical, emotional, and spiritual death. In other words, while we may be protecting and preserving physical life, we may unintentionally create a mental health crisis that virtually does the same thing. A recent report from the head of a California hospital’s trauma team recently noted they have seen a year’s worth of suicide attempts in the last four weeks. In a survey done by the Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly half of Americans report the coronavirus is harming their mental health. Furthermore, “a federal emergency hotline for people in emotional distress registered more than 1,000 percent increase in April compared with the same time last year.” Is this really living?
Preserving Life is Complicated
I understand there are no clear-cut answers to the problems we are currently facing. Anyone who proposes simple solutions to the complexity we are in right now is ill-informed. Yet, in our narrative chanting of preserving life, let us not forget that life is more than physical living. How many more deaths by suicide will it take for us to realize that in our attempts to stave off death by illness, we may be creating an environment where death by self is the preferred option. Wisdom would suggest that we not accept truncated, over-simplified answers to complex questions. As we dialogue with the broader culture in terms of what it means to preserve life, may we put forward a robust argument that life is more than simply breathing.
So, yes, I want to unapologetically defend the lives of those who are currently living. I want to help in the endeavor to reduce the number of Covid-19 cases. I want to serve my fellow neighbors and citizens by being safe. I want to keep people from physically dying. I also want to acknowledge that stay-at-home orders are also causing death—both in suicide and in emotional and mental health. As a people, God is inviting us to hold both of these options in tension rather than living in the faux-binary choice system we are often pressed to believe.