Would Jesus Social Distance?
After several months of the COVID-19 pandemic, we are all undoubtedly feeling the effects of social distancing and the profound impact it has had on our relationships. While social distancing is a fairly new concept for us, it is something Jesus would have been very familiar with when he lived on earth some 2,000 years ago. What did his approach to social distancing look like? And how does that impact our lives today? This week, Jo and Vince explore some of the many challenges we face in this season, and how God remarkably meets us in each one.
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Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I'm your host, Michael Davis. The world seems to be in chaos. Months of quarantine, millions of people infected, hundreds of thousands of dead, massive numbers of people are unemployed. In the midst of this upheaval on such a global scale, many of us are also wrestling with the personal grief at the loss of a loved one. A sorrow that all of us here at RZIM share, as we mourn the passing of our founder and friend Ravi Zacharias. Amplifying the apprehension that so many of us are experiencing about what the future will bring is that rather than uniting as a people, we see more fracture than ever. Even for believers, it could be easy to fall into despair. How should Christians view and respond to what's happening around the world, in our countries, in our cities, and in our neighborhoods? How do we live out our faith when we're socially isolated. But before we get started, Jo, you had something you wanted to share with our listeners.
Jo Vitale: We are so aware because one of the things we love about this podcast is that so many different people around the world listen to it. And it's been amazing to connect with you all. But we also know that with such a diverse listenership. For many of you, this is going to have been an exceptionally painful, even devastating season. So we do want you all to know that we're really sorry for what you are going through. And as a team at RZIM, we meet to pray together every day. And every day we particularly pray for those who've sent in their prayer requests. So we just wanted to invite you. If you're someone who really needs prayer at this time, please do write in. You can just go to the website, to the RZIM homepage. At the bottom of that page, you can access a form where you submit your name and then any prayer requests. And then that will go straight to our team. And each day we'll be praying for different people who've sent those requests. Asking God to bring healing, restoration, strength, provision, hope. Whatever it is that you and your loved ones really need for what you're facing in this season.
Michael Davis: Yeah. Well, let's get to our episode's question. And this question comes from a bunch of people. So I think this is a really relevant question. Basically, it's “Would Jesus have practiced social distancing?”
Vince Vitale: Yeah, thanks Michael. Right. That question comes from everyone. A question that's tough not to be asking at the moment, so hopefully we can open it up a little bit.
Vince Vitale: But one of the things I really like about this question is that it invites Jesus into our very present circumstances right now. I think so often, people think about Jesus as having lived too long ago in too different a part of the world, in too different a culture to be relevant to us today in the 21st century. But I'm always impressed with the extent to which Jesus can relate to what we are actually going through at the moment. And oftentimes, people talk about the fact that Jesus endured a lot in his lifetime, that Jesus suffered. But I think sometimes, what we really under appreciate is the extent to which he ensured that he suffered and endured things in precisely the ways that would allow him to really understand what we're going through today. So I think it's amazing that we can ask a question about social distancing. Which for many of us, we hadn't even thought of that phrase until weeks ago or a month ago. But we can look to someone who lived 2,000 years ago and begin to find robust responses to that sort of question.
Vince Vitale: One of the most heart-wrenching articles that I've read during this season was in USA Today. And it was called “We Hear You, Dad.” And it reflected on the experience of a daughter named Abby who stayed on the phone for hours as her dad died alone in the hospital, or at least without family around in the hospital from COVID-19. And they knew he was dying. The nurses and doctors knew he was dying. And he couldn't speak to her, but he could hear his daughter. And she reflected on first just how heroic she said these nurses and doctors were. She could hear them coming in to reposition his pillow, to make him a bit more comfortable. Putting themselves at risk for his comfort, even as he was dying. And she spoke about how powerful that was.
Vince Vitale: And they would position the phone so that she could hear him and speak to him, even though he couldn't speak back. And the hours passed, and his breathing became harder and harder, and heavier. Abby spent 36 hours listening to her father die. She conference called in others of her family members, her siblings as well. And she and her siblings were just praying that he could hear her voice. And she remembers saying into the phone, "I love you. Thank you. I'm sorry. I forgive you." She said, "Breathe Dad, we need to hear you breathe." She said sometimes there were many seconds between breaths. And then she said, "We hear you dad, when she would hear the breath come through." It was really heart-wrenching to read the article and to imagine yourself in that sort of situation. Not being able to be there present with someone who you love as they die.
Vince Vitale: And as I was reflecting on that, it took me right to Mark chapter 15. And that verse where it says, "With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last." And it struck me that within the Christian worldview, within the Christian faith, God the father heard Jesus breathe his last. And he heard it from a distance over hours. As Jesus hung there on the cross, the father heard him breathing and he heard the breathing getting more and more taxing, more and more tortured. And then ultimately, his son died and he couldn't be there the way that he longed to be, even though he heard that last breath.
Vince Vitale: So this is just one example. But time and time again as we've asked this question and many other questions surrounding the coronavirus and how we relate to this season that we're in. I find myself just so impressed, just find it so remarkable the extent to which God understands what we're going through right now, very viscerally. And I think that's why we can go to him with our fears, our grief, our questions, our hopes. Whatever it is that we're carrying in this time.
Jo Vitale: Yeah, that's right. So I think as we get into this question of “would Jesus socially distance,” I think the place to start is by asking the question, “Did Jesus socially distance?” And firstly, we want to think about some of the ways in which he actually didn't. So one thought here is that when Jesus walked on the earth, leprosy was such a dreaded disease of that time. People who had it, there was no cure. And they were considered to be highly contagious. We actually know now that they're not. But at the time, it was believed to be highly contagious. But even more than that, within Jewish culture, it was seen as a symbol of uncleanness. So once someone had leprosy, they became banished from the community. They basically underwent mandatory social distancing, no longer were they allowed to sit at the table with their family or hug their children. They could only speak to them from a distance and in public places. If people were approaching them, lepers had to shout out the warning “Unclean!” so that others wouldn't even come near them.
Jo Vitale: So into this kind of terrible context comes Jesus. And we read in Matthew eight verses one to three. "A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, 'Lord, if you're willing, you can make me clean.' And Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. And he said, 'I am willing. Be clean.'" And immediately he was cleansed of leprosy. I mean, this is an incredible story here the way Jesus crosses the taboos. Not only of people's fear of contagion, but of uncleanness. And in this moment, Jesus knows actually that his power is greater than that of leprosy. That actually leprosy isn't able to make him unclean. That quite the opposite. He uniquely is able to make them clean and to bring healing to what was considered this incurable disease.
Jo Vitale: Now hear me rightly. I'm not drawing direct application to say that means that we should go around touching everybody who is sick too. One radical different here is that actually Jesus knew that he could not be made unclean in that situation. But instead, he was going to be the one who would heal them, whereas that isn't so much true for us. So for us, we have to bear in mind that even if you think, "Well I'm strong, and I'm immune, and I'll be fine." Actually, we can spread disease in the home. Other people who are vulnerable. So we have to be considering everybody in this circumstance.
Jo Vitale: But a second point to consider here is it doesn't mean of course, that we therefore shouldn't be those who help others who are sick at the risk of our own lives. I mean as a Christian, we all know that we're called to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. I think the question for us is how precisely is God calling us to do that in this particular season? What does laying down your life look like? For many of us, laying down our lives in this particular moment, it sort of looks like social distancing. It looks like staying away from all the many things that fill up our lives. That make the normal for the sake of other people who all at risk. But for other people, there is a more direct parallel to Jesus here. In many ways, I think Jesus can relate to the healthcare professionals who are on the front lines. Jesus himself in a sense here, he is a healthcare professional. And he goes to care for the sick directly, putting himself in that path. Because he knows that he has the ability and the power to heal them.
Vince Vitale: Yeah, it's interesting Jo, the way that Jesus treated the lepers and the sick. I mean, there's also part of, just a broader approach to life for Jesus as well. Right? The Pharisees were always asking things like, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" The people that he wasn't supposed to be around socially, he was always around. And then you think of Luke 7 in a Pharisees' home. And a woman who's known as a sinner in the city begins to wet his feet with her tears. And she wipes them with her hair, and she kisses them and poured perfume on them. I mean this transgress is all norms of social distancing.
Vince Vitale: And even that. You can put all of this together and say really all of this is part of a broader, more general theological approach to social distancing. In the incarnation, God did, in one sense, the opposite of socially distancing himself from us, right? Even though coming and living among us meant being tempted in ways that he didn't have to be tempted by. Even though it meant that he was going to put himself, allow himself to be vulnerable to things that otherwise he would be immune to. He still came. Even though he would have been immune to sin and any physical burden, he chose to come and live among us. So there are significant ways here theologically, and in terms of Jesus' approach to life in which he really did not always socially distance himself from others.
Jo Vitale: Right. But then of course, we can look at the other side of it and see that actually there are also examples of ways that he did. That he did social distance. And actually, that very example that you just gave of the incarnation. Which on one hand, it seems to be an act counter to distancing of God coming close, coming near to us. In a sense that the very same time, that inclination is also an act of voluntary social distancing. Because of course with Jesus to step near to us, he had to distance himself to some degree from his Trinitarian family, from the father, and from the Holy Spirit. To one degree, he's experiencing that simply when he takes on flash and becomes a human being. But to a far greater degree, of course he experiences that at the cross in that incredibly painful moment where, like Vince has already shared, the father and the son are at a distance as a father is listening to him gasp those last breaths.
Jo Vitale: And what's so staggering about this is that Jesus does this while we're still his enemies. I mean, can you imagine to socially distance yourself from family in order to save the very people who actually stand against you and your family? I mean, this is just such a radical act of generosity.
Vince Vitale: Yeah. That's quite amazing when you put it in those terms to think to socially distance yourself from your own family in order to care not only for strangers or for others, but actually for those who are against you and against your family. That's hard to conceive. It really puts in perspective the extravagance of the love of God.
Vince Vitale: When I think about Jesus socially distancing, one of the first passages that comes to mind is Jesus going out into the wilderness, into the desert for 40 days when he's tempted. Now Jesus regularly would withdraw from the crowds and spend time with his father on their own. But here he goes for 40 days. And it seems like one of the reasons for that is to get intimate time with his father. And also in this context, to set the trajectory for the rest of life. And I think that makes this passage incredibly relevant to this time right now when questions are being raised about, really the depth of life in this season, where so much has changed. Where so many of our normal routines and rhythms have been shifted. And is it an opportunity for us to ask questions about not just right now, but what is the trajectory of life going to look like?
Vince Vitale: So Jesus went and he had 40 difficult days, right? He didn't have access to the resources he normally would have. He was hungry, and he was tempted by the devil three times we're told. And the temptations themselves are interesting. He's tempted towards comfort. He's tempted towards money. And he's tempted towards power. But instead, he chose the path of faithfulness to God. So in this time of social distancing, for Jesus in that time in the wilderness was specifically a time to ask questions about the trajectory of life. Was the trajectory of life going to be set by the things is that the devil said that Jesus should rely on, or was he going to make a strong decision to say the rest of life is going to be set that trajectory based on trust in my heavenly father? And each time that Jesus was tempted, he responded with scripture.
Vince Vitale: And that I think is very significant. I realized going back over this passage, that this ancient book, the Bible, is in one sense, the antidote to social distancing. It's been that antidote for centuries prior to Zoom, or WebEx, or Zencastr, which we're using right now. Or any of the great platforms and technologies that we're using to keep us connected today. Before a technological age, the church knew already how to have deep, unified, intimate community. Despite massive social distance, right? Access to other regions or other continents. Wasn't like it was today. You couldn't just traverse that by a plane or an iPhone. The antidote to social distance was to center our hearts, and our minds, and our community around a common book and common truth. The life giving words of God himself. So I just really found myself thinking it's important for us not to lose sight of that in this season. Easy for us nowadays to maybe put our Bibles to the side and just put all of our dependency to bridge the social distance on Zoom or some other platform. But as good as Zoom is, as good as those technologies are to keep us connected. In my experience, the Bible remains the best way to bridge social distance and to keep deep, real, authentic community. Even when you are separated from others. That's why there can be a church that is universal and is global.
Vince Vitale: I think we're finding this at RZIM. We meet every morning, as Jo said, to read the Bible and to pray together. And in this season, we're seeing the number of people who are joining that call to read and pray together double and triple. And my hope is that that's not just for this season, but that that's going to be a trajectory that we're setting as we confront the temptations of this season and make a strong decision about what we are going to rely on in the days ahead.
Jo Vitale: I think that's such a powerful point that you've just made that, Vince. Because the thing that ultimately unites all of us, is that we're one in Christ as Christians. So the more time that we spend with Christ and in his word, the more like him we become. And therefore the more united we are to one another as well. And I was thinking how true that is, that that bridge is social distance. Not just when we are forced to be apart from one another like we are now. But the social distances that exist between us, even when that isn't the case. I mean, we think of all the division within the church, all the things that need reconciling. All the pain over, whether it's race, relationships, or difference of denominations, or just different people not getting along. And then I just think, “Wow, if we did that same thing you just said there. If we spent time in the Bible, then how much would that too overcome our social distances?” If that was the way we chose to spend more and more of our time, I think we might find that that made a huge difference on the path to reconciliation and so many other areas as well. Lot to think about there.
Jo Vitale: But moving on from that example from the beginning of Jesus' ministry, that Vince just gave. One other example of Jesus' social distancing that stands out, is one that comes actually after he's already died. And right when he's been a resurrected at the tomb. We had somebody talking about this in a sermon recently. But when Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and she's crying at the tomb and she thinks she's talking to the gardener, and then Jesus says to her, "Mary." And something in the way he says it, she just knows it's him. And she turns and cries out. And then Jesus responds to her. "Do not hold on to me, for I've not yet ascended to the father." And I'm sure some of you have seen some funny memes online floating around about this very scene as an example of Jesus social distancing.
Jo Vitale: But it does stand out, doesn't it? Because we think of Jesus as always welcoming everyone. Let the little children come to me, let everybody approach him, touching him. All these examples. But then Jesus' response instead of saying “Come close,” He says, "Go instead to my brothers and tell them I am ascending to my Father and your Father to my God, and your God."
Jo Vitale: So what's going on here? Well, it seems Jesus is telling her not to cling on to him. Not to rely on what she's perhaps relied on before, which is his physical presence. Because now he's ushering in a new season and a new purpose for her and for the church. And it makes us think, doesn't it? How might this be true for us as well in this season of pandemic, when we can't rely on so many of those normal routines and habits, and resources, and comforts, and people, the way that we might perhaps typically rely on? What is it that God is doing, that might be a new thing? What could we be learning in this season? What is it in us that perhaps we have a chance to reflect on and to change?
Vince Vitale: Yeah, that's right. And the other night Jo, you were talking about one potential answer to that question. What is it that this sheltering in place, this social distancing, what is it that we can be taught by this? Is there something that God's teaching us through it? And you were reflecting specifically on the elderly, the way that we are treating people in light of the vulnerability of the elderly to this disease. And what that tells us about the value of human nature. I thought that was significant. Maybe you can say a bit more about that.
Jo Vitale: Sure. So we often talk at RZIM about the question “What does it mean to be human?” I think one of the things I found really hard to see is the way that in some ways, we're also seeing at times what it means to be inhuman through this experience. There was a protest going on against lockdown in Tennessee a couple of weeks ago. And I just saw this slogan that absolutely pierced me, which just said “Sacrifice the weak.” And I just thought “what frightening words to live by.”
Jo Vitale: And yet in some ways, when you really think about it, what perhaps surprises me more wasn't the presence of those words. But the fact that perhaps more people don't agree with this sentiment. In a way it's a very encouraging thing. But at the same time you sort of think “Well, I guess if you take God out of the picture and we're just evolutionary products guided by evolutionary principles, then that sort of logically makes sense.” Isn't it all about survival of the fittest? And the fact that I think so many people saw that sign and actually responded to it, in what I thought was a very appropriate way is just that, is an appalling thing to say. It kind of encouraged me in a sense of showing just how far our Christian ethos continues to undergo and seep into the ways that our culture views human beings. Because most people just did not agree with that statement.
Jo Vitale: And yet, I don't think people realize that that's a Christian principle coming to light there. I mean, that is the message of the gospel, isn't it? That actually Vince has said it before in the show. But it's not survival of the fittest, but it's about the fitness giving up his life for the least fit. We don't sacrifice the vulnerable or the weak. We follow the example of a God who came out of power and did everything he could to lift up the poor and needy, and raise them up from the ash heat. And bring restoration, and redemption, and healing to the very people that the world would look down on and despise and say, "Well, they have no value." Prioritize youth before age. The young people are our future. And we say no, there's something innately wonderful, and worthy, and precious and sacred about every human life from beginning to end.
Vince Vitale: Yeah. And I've also been encouraged that on the whole, people are saying the elderly are worth it. The weak are worth it. We need to value them. We need to protect them. And in the last century, it's not always been the case that people, or even communities, or even nations, have come to that conclusion. So I have found that encouraging. And then I think the question to ask is “Where does that intuition come from?” That is grace, right? That's an unmerited gift. That's refusal to think about human value exclusively in terms of a cost benefit analysis. What can you do for me? What can you do for a society? And saying no, your value is not just based on something instrumentalist. It's intrinsic. It's not just what you can do, but it's what you are. Being created in the image of God. And nothing can change that. And it's the same intuition that's at the foundation of marriage. I've always thought it was so significant that line that we pledged to each other Jo. “For better, or for worse.” In other words, I have pledged that I would rather be worse off with you than better off with someone else.
Jo Vitale: I am so relieved to hear you say that. I feel like we need to put that statement above our front door just for the days when we really need to remember it.
Vince Vitale: I'm not saying I am worse off. I'm just saying I pledge that I would still rather be worse.
Michael Davis: If we're being honest, let's just admit it. Jo's got the rougher end of this deal, to be honest.
Vince Vitale: It's by far the truest thing that's been said in this episode, definitely right. It's a radical claim when you think about that, to say that to another person “For better or for worse.” Even if this winds up being worse for me, I'm still committed to it. It's a radically not instrumentalist way of valuing a person and a relationship. And the other connection as you were talking the other night, Jo, about the elderly and the way this has shown our value for them.
Vince Vitale: And then asking them that question. Where does that come from? The other connection I was thinking was important here was that it's the very same intuitions and reasoning that currently are leading us to care for the elderly and the vulnerable. Right now. It's the same intuitions and reasoning that make many Christians so passionate about the value of the unborn and about protecting unborn children. And I think when you think about that from the very beginning of life to the very end of life, I think it's a beautiful vision of how to value a human person unconditionally. Not I value if something, but no ifs necessarily. I value you just because of what you are. A person created in the image of God. As soon as you come to have life until end of your life, and on into eternity. That's a beautiful vision for life, I believe. That I hope it's one that, as a society, we're being drawn back to in this time.
Michael Davis: That actually kind of brings in an interesting thought. Because there is some confusion among a lot of Christians in regards to how we should view, whether it's the lockdown, or how we view the value of life. Because the problem for a lot of us, and I'm talking about myself. Maybe you guys can give me some clarity, is it's so intermixed with politics now. So how should a Christian be able to view us living out our faith, but then also trying to understand how politics plays into what we're told to do, what we're told not to do?
Jo Vitale: Yeah. That's a tricky one. And I have prayed constantly for our leaders who are having to make very difficult decisions all the time that are challenging to weigh. And I understand that people are struggling to figure out we don't want to sacrifice the weak. We want to value life. How do you best do that in a situation that is affecting so many people across the nation, across the globe? What is the best way forwards to care best for people?
Jo Vitale: I will hold my hands up and say I don't know the answer to that question. I don't have the wisdom there to answer it. I pray for those who are having to make those difficult decisions. I guess what we're saying is that whatever decisions are being made in these circumstances, we need to make our decisions based on the ethic of what is the most loving. So it can't be the case that whatever decision we make is based on the principle of sacrifice, the weak, or the few, for the many. Or some kind of ethical principle like that. Because we're saying no, the life of every single person is valuable. Now that still doesn't make these easy or clear cut decisions. But I think that does mean that that has to be our starting point of looking to the other and our concern for the other, rather than looking first and foremost to ourselves.
Vince Vitale: And that's why I think it's so interesting that Jesus, you can look to examples where he seemed to do the polar opposite of social distancing. But then you can look to other examples where he clearly did social distance in a variety of different ways. I think as we often find in the Bible, it rightly shows the complexity of the situation. But the commonality in Jesus's decisions in whatever direction it was, in whatever particular circumstance, depending on whatever he was particularly called to at that time. The commonality was that he always made the decision not for his own good, but for the good of others. Not for his own comfort, but so that he could serve others. So we have in Jesus, both a statement of the complexity of the issue, but also a question of filter through which we need to ask the questions of ourselves in terms of how we need to live at this time.
Jo Vitale: Right. And I think one aspect of that is political. When you think about the broader framework that we live within, that connects our varying relationships to one another. But if you bring that down to the much more personal. Actually, I think this question also is really making us think on a deeper level about the importance of our relationships in general. Not just political relationships, but the relationships with those that we live among our families, our friends, our communities, churches. Our work colleagues. And I think one of the things that actually, this has really highlighted for us. And it'd be really sad if we didn't. Actually reflect on this while we have the opportunity, and perhaps even change the way we're living, is to recognize the extent to which, in so many ways as human beings, we've started devaluing relationships. I think it really shows us the trajectory that we've been on. And it's a chance for us to kind of reassess.
Jo Vitale: I mean when you think about it even technologically, how many years have we willfully spent socially distancing ourselves from one another through our use of social media and all of these things? And we can clearly see from the statistics and the research being done, that every success generation is becoming lonelier and more isolated. I mean, it's interesting to me. We talk about now we're already thinking about care for the elderly in terms of social distancing. But how many of the elderly are alone and dying alone? And it's one of the most lonely times of your life. And how much we really thinking about that and how much is that reflected in our care and in our communities. And there's a certain irony now that we've had social distancing forced upon us that now we're using every technology at our disposal to try and coordinate to one another and to care for each other in the true community. But I think that reveals to us, isn't it. Technology itself isn't the problem. It can be used in beautiful ways to help us stay connected. It's not about the technology, it's about how we use it. And that is really determined by is in our hearts.
Vince Vitale: Yeah. Right. The reality is that we keep people at arm’s length. We're being told at the most minimum, you need two arm’s length from another person. But we've kept people at arm’s length long before the coronavirus. I mean, we literally do that. If you step onto a train, or a bus, or a plane. If you step onto a plane and there's an empty row and empty seats, and instead you go and sit right next to someone. People would think that was incredibly weird, right? They would think it would be so weird if you made that decision.
Vince Vitale: And when you just reflect on that sociologically for a minute, that's odd. That's worth thinking about more. We would think it is not only irregular, but downright weird. If somebody had an option to sit a distance from you, but actually chose to sit next to you in a public context. That's very interesting. And it makes me ask the question, do we do exactly the same thing with God? Do we willfully socially distance ourselves from Him, keep Him at an arm's length? We're happy to have brief conversation like on the plane, happy to have a brief conversation across the aisle. But that's different from actually sitting next to someone for a long period of time. Your arms maybe having to rub up against each other, even on the plane. That uncomfort of being so close to someone, so vulnerable in one's presence. That worry of exposing too much of yourself or of giving up too much control. That asking us to trust Him too deeply. Do we do exactly the same thing with God where we're willing to have relationship with Him in a socially distant sort of way at an arm's length, but not in the intimacy that He truly desires?
Jo Vitale: One of our teammates in the Middle East recently made the point, which I thought was really astute. That actually people are more afraid of being home than being outside. And for some, there's just a horrendous tragedy to that, that actually being at home is literally not safe and being outside is freedom. And I think it's horrendous what we've seen in terms of what people are facing with domestic abuse at this time.
Jo Vitale: But for others, it's not so much that they're not safe at home. But when you're at home, you've come face to face with the very relationships that perhaps for a long time we've been struggling with or neglecting. And there's something horrible isn't there about when you feel like the people who you're supposed to be the closest to have actually become furthest away from you. And now we're at home. We can't run away or distract ourselves. We have to actually face up to some of those relational challenges.
Jo Vitale: And then for other of us, perhaps it's not about the people who are at home. But actually it's that being home means being by ourselves. And there's something really hard about having to face ourselves.
Vince Vitale: Yeah, you've heard me quote the Pascal quote before. “All of humanity's problems boil down to not being able to sit quietly in a room alone.” And normally, we can avoid that because of all of the distractions and our ability to get out of the house whenever we want to. But I think our colleagues point speaks to that. So specifically in this time, people are more afraid of being home than being outside. The next question is why. And I think Pascal gets right at the heart of that. Because one of those relationships that it forces us to deal with in a significant way is relationship with God. So there's a real opportunity for many of us in this time when we're home to not just spend the time trying to find new ways to distract ourselves. But asking us that question.
Vince Vitale: This is forcing me to be closer to God than normal. This is forcing me to not have him at an arm's length in some way. How does that make me feel? And if there's uncomfort there, asking why. And having that conversation in a really open way with God, that could be a very significant use of this time.
Vince Vitale: Our colleague (Michael and Jo) Allison, she reminded me of C. S. Lewis' The Great Divorce. And in particular, the gray town that is depicted at the beginning of that novel. And its relationship to this time that we're in right now. So the gray town is this dull, joyless town. We come to realize in the novel that it represents either hell or purgatory. And let me just read a couple paragraphs from the great divorce. And I think it's so relevant to what we're going through right now.
Vince Vitale: This is what it says. It says, "The trouble was that they're so quarrelsome. As soon as anyone arrives in the gray town, he settles in some street. Before he's been there 24 hours, he quarrels with his neighbor. Before the week is over, he's quarreled so badly that he decides to move. You see it's easy here. You've only got to think a house, and there it is. That's how the town keeps on growing, leaving more and more empty streets. And people keep getting further and further apart."
Vince Vitale: "There's a bit of rising ground near where I live, and a chap has a telescope. You can see the lights of the inhabited houses millions of miles away. Millions of miles from us and from one another. That's one of the disappointments. I thought you'd meet interesting historical characters here, but you don't. They're too far away."
Vince Vitale: "What's the trouble about this place? Not that people are quarrelsome. That's only human nature. That was the same on earth. The trouble is they have no needs. You get everything you want to just by imagining it. That's why it never costs any trouble to move to another street, or build another house. In other words, there's no proper basis for any community life. If they needed real shops, chaps would have to stay near the real shops. If they needed real houses, they'd have to stay near where builders were. It's scarcity that enables a society to exist."
Vince Vitale: I think that's a prophetic passage for our time, especially in the developed world where all you have to do is click on a button on Amazon, and something shows up at your door, right? All they have to do in the gray town is imagine something, and they have it. And we are not that far removed from that, some of us living in the developed world. and that could lead us further and further apart relationally. As we need to rely on each other less and less in order to have the comforts that we desire.
Vince Vitale: So I wonder if we have a very similar decision to make during this time. We need to make a very intentional decision to say “No, we are going to live in community. We're not going to keep moving further and further from each other until we will only be able to see each other through a telescope millions of miles away. We're going to choose community, each other, relationship, meaningfulness over comfort and superficiality.” That's one of the questions which I think is piercing in this time period. And we need to give an answer not just for now, but for the days to come.
Jo Vitale: Right. And the challenge of that, of even choosing community, who the people it's maybe harder to get on with. You don't naturally connect to it rather than funneling them out of our lives, the way that we can now. I find that passage so disturbing because I think it really does reflect the trajectory of the way that we're living. And there's something about this season where we've sort of been given what we think we wanted, social distance. And we realize it's actually not what we want at all. And just reflecting on back in the day when people would know each other in their communities and gather every week, and families have dinner every night. And relatives are over on a Sunday. And now you go to a restaurant, it's so depressing watching everyone around you. And maybe you're at your own table sitting there and looking at your phones, and being on our phones rather than being in conversation with the people in front of us.
Jo Vitale: Actually, this whole season has made me realize. Just this last week, I think it's really hit me how homesick I am for my family in England and just being so far away from them. And it wasn't that I wasn't homesick before. I was. But somehow the busy-ness, it can distract you and help take your mind off it. But actually not having so much busy-ness in my life has really shown me how much I missed my family. And that feeling was always there. It's just I can't quite suppress it in the same way in this season. So it's working out what do you do with that perhaps when you can't change the circumstances? They're still across an ocean. How will I connect in more healthy ways? How do I continue to be close to my family when we are at a distance?
Vince Vitale: Yeah, I think that's absolutely right Jo. What do I do? This is maybe my last thought here, but we're all experiencing new things right now. Right? We've been thrust into a context that we haven't experienced before, and that is doing different things emotionally to us, just like it's surfacing things for Jo about the way that she misses her family. So the question for every one of us, whatever that is, that's being surfaced, the next question is “What's going to be different for us once we get through this?” That's the question that I think we need to be asking. Because the things that are being surfaced right now are not only relevant to this season, they're going to be relevant for a long time. And the other article that really hit me. This one, and then that other one in the USA Today, the really moving piece on, “We hear you, Dad.”
Vince Vitale: The other article that has really moved me during this time was by Alain de Botton. And he was reflecting on Albert Camus views in the New York Times. And he said, "Life is a hospice, never a hospital. Plague or no plague, there is always as it were the plague. If what we mean by that is a susceptibility to sudden death, an event that can render our lives instantaneously meaningless." Hopefully this question is a question that we're taking seriously, not just in this season, but for many years ahead. Because it's not, in one sense, just in this season that we're dealing with that possibility of the plague, that possibility of a pandemic. That possibility, the susceptibility to sudden death. It has been put into stark relief for us right now, but that is always true of the lives that we're living. So we have to ask in light of that, what are we going to do? How are we going to live? What do we want our relationships to look like? How do we want to use our time? What sort of people do we want to be? I hope the questions that are being raised in this season are ones that we're going to take seriously, and that we're going to do our best to take this time to answer and then to live into those answers.
Michael Davis: Well guys, we are out of time. Jo, sum it up for us.
Jo Vitale: Well, I think it's fitting to end the episode where we began. Which is just remembering how remarkable it is that we have a God who can actually understand and relate to how we're feeling in this season. So whether you're someone who's having to social distance right now, or whether you're actually someone who's unable to do so because of the nature of the work that you do and your needs. Jesus can relate to those two things either way. I think the common thread here is whether Jesus socially distanced or not. Whatever he did, he did so for the good of others. He always chose to put others before himself. And I think that is the piercing question that's being asked of every one of us in a very challenging way, right now. Both in the big decisions and in the everyday decisions. Are we going to live for our own comfort, or for the needs and concerns of others?
Jo Vitale: As Vince has said, it's not a different question than usual. We've just been confronted with it in a more obvious way that we can't avoid. But it is a question we choose to answer every day. By the way we live, what we buy, how we spend our money, how we treat people, the way that we do or don't invest in relationships.
Jo Vitale: And I just want to close by reading the words of Jesus himself from Matthew 25, from the parable where he says, "’And the king will say to those on his right come you who are blessed by my father, take your inheritance. The king had prepared for you since the creation of the world for I was hungry, and he gave me something to eat. I was thirsty, and he gave me something to drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me. And I needed clothes, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you looked after me. I was in prison, and you came to visit me.’ And then the righteous ones said to him, ‘Lord, when do we see you hungry and feed you or thirsty and give you something to drink? When do we see you a stranger and invite you in or needing clothes and clothe you? When do we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ And the king will reply, ‘Truly I tell you whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"
Michael Davis: Well, Vince, Jo, thank you guys for virtually joining me. Thank you all for listening, and we will catch you guys next time.
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