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Coronavirus: the gift that is showing us what matters

Wednesday, 25 March 2020  | Nils von Kalm

Light up the darkness

(Dr Robert Neville, I Am Legend)

The American author and activist, Marianne Williamson, says that you don’t get rid of the darkness in our world by fighting it; you get rid of it by shining light on it. 

We are living in dark times. I reckon my 91-year-old mother would be one of the few people I know who would ever have experienced anything like what the world is experiencing at the moment.

For Mum it was the Second World War. She grew up in Nazi Germany and was forced into the Hitler Youth as a little girl. Her home town was a target for Allied bombing raids during the war because of its ball-bearing factories that were critical for the supply of German tanks.

So, in 1943, Mum and her friends were taken into the countryside for schooling while her parents stayed in the town. When the air raid sirens sounded, Mum and her friends, and her parents in the town, would be rushed into bunkers while the bombs rained down overhead. When they finally emerged from the bunkers, Mum and her friends didn’t know if their home was still standing, or worse, if their parents were still alive.

Many years later I grew up in Melbourne. I have never known war or conflict, never known a worldwide time of anxiety and uncertainty. Until now.

It was only in about mid-March when I felt a change of mood in the air about the Coronavirus. It was then that we all suddenly woke up and realised that this is serious.

Surely now, this is a time when we are forced to see what really matters in life. Times of crisis bring to the surface both the best and the worst in humanity. The strange paradox is that it really takes a crisis to wake us up from our slumber and realise that our way of living hasn’t been working. We have been fast asleep on the cruise ship of consumerism and ease while it careers down the river towards the edge of the cliff. As Neil Postman says, we have been amusing ourselves to death. Or as Kierkegaard said, we have been tranquilised by the trivial.

As the Coronavirus hits us, we are seeing the human capacity for both extreme selfishness and the heights of altruism. We are also possibly seeing the collapse of free market capitalism before our eyes as governments are forced into providing bailouts for businesses that cannot survive the economic bloodbath that gets worse every day. As more and more services in recent decades have been privatised at the altar of the almighty dollar, we are now reaping the consequences as governments are forced to come to the rescue. When this crisis passes, the most vulnerable will still need government help, as they always have.

Meanwhile, in our suburbs and towns we are seeing both the consequences of fear and the beautifully Christlike sacrifices of love. Social media groups have popped up all around the world for people to express and talk about their desire to help the most vulnerable. While this has been happening, we have seen fistfights in supermarket aisles over toilet paper.

If ever the superficiality of consumerism and free market capitalism has been exposed for its utter failure to provide the life humanity needs, it is now, during the time of Corona. If ever we have seen that love and human connection are what really matter in life and should be prioritised over anything else, it is now. Memes have reminded us that when we next judge refugees for putting their families on rickety boats in a desperate attempt to save their lives, we need to remember that we fought over toilet paper. We can never again point the finger. Similar memes have asked us how the lockdown is going. That one was signed with love from Gaza, whose people have been living this and worse for 70 years. The virus of Corona has exposed an even greater virus: that of consumer capitalism and the encouragement of selfishness, greed and lack of compassion. That virus has killed more people than Corona ever will.

As I am inspired by the outbreaks of love and human connection in these anxious times, I am reminded of the legacy of the early Christians, who also gave their lives in care for the sick during plagues of times gone by. When the rest of society abandoned the sick during the plagues of the 2nd and 3rd centuries, it was the Christians who reached out and took them in, simply following what their Jesus had done and had taught them to do. And they often did so at the expense of their own lives. We have reaped the benefits of that legacy. It turned the Roman Empire on its head. And it threatens to turn the current global empire of free market capitalism the same way.

When love of neighbour is seen in a crisis, it stands out like a beacon. Surely now we can see that the old ways of individualistic Christianity, with its emphasis on your own personal ticket to heaven and correct doctrine, has never had anything to say to the world. When it comes to the crunch, it comes down to what Jesus said 2,000 years ago. Love covers all; everything written in all the laws we see is all about love of God and neighbour. The Golden Rule - do unto others as you would have them do unto you - has never had more social relevance than it does today.

True followers of Jesus give their lives for the sake of others. They sacrifice, even unto death. If they die in the process, it doesn’t matter because they’re still with Christ. Following Jesus frees us to live without counting any cost.

When the early Christians took in the sick during those plagues, they reduced the overall numbers of deaths and became an extraordinary witness to the unwavering, sacrificial love that was embodied in Jesus. It was the all-consuming love of Christ that was embodied in those faithful Christians, even while their physical bodies often succumbed to the plague itself.

At a funeral I attended some years ago, the pastor reminded us that, when darkness is all around and seems to convince us that hope is lost, a little candle flickering in the corner says ‘I beg to differ’. Outbreaks of hope are lighting up the darkness around the world. The old words of John's Gospel are true: the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. Never has and never will.

Nils von Kalm is a Melbourne-based writer who is passionate about the relevance of Jesus to life in the 21st century. He is the author of Bending Towards Justice: How the Gospel is More Relevant Than Ever in the 21st Century and can be found on Facebook at facebook.com/nils.vonkalm.

By Nils von Kalm.

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