On Death and Decision-Making
The trauma of COVID-19 has become part of our story.
The chapter is not yet completed, so time will tell what the "theme" of this chapter is and what role it plays in our overall story. It is a strange chapter so far, full of both extended passages of tremendous evil as well as beautiful narratives of goodness. One theme that seems to be coming through has something to do with unity.
COVID-19 has exposed the divisions that were already present before the pandemic. From the first moments of "quarantine", factions were revealed, lines were drawn, teams were chosen. Each team had their own fight songs focuses, some yelling "Faith over Fear," "Neighbors over nuumbers", and a few "Rights or Rebellion!"
COVID-19 has revealed the world to be divided. Men and women don't seem capable of "agreeing to disagree" anymore. Disagreement with a particular view or solution leads to division, which most often leads to demonization. They aren't simply wrong...they are evil. Sadly, this is no less true in the church.
Since it's beginning, there has been divisions in the church. In writing to the Corinthians church, Paul appeals to this church family to resolve the divisions he’s heard they have. “Chloe’s” people have reported that there are many fighting factions in the church. The source of the disagreements are unclear or, perhaps, too unimportant to mention. Suffice to say, strong disagreements/divisions in church are not new.
When Jesus prayed in John 17, one of the repetitive themes of his prayer was unity.
11 And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one…20 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, 23 I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. John 17.11, 21-23
Jesus knew that we would struggle with unity because, like the world, we think of our own name (e.g. opinion, view, desire, experience, etc.) and our own fame MORE than God’s. Paul is writing to a church suffering from widespread self-glorifying-individualism. He appeals to them to be united as ONE, literally, to SAY the same things, THINK the same things, and DO the same things.
This is not to suggest that their won't be a diversity of perspectives or opinions, but that there is something greater than a perspective or opinion that binds these people together. The church is called to be one group of disciples, to speak with one voice, to decide with one mind, and to move with one action. A family, or a family of families (a church) either AGREE to think with ONE mind leading to unity; or they WILL think with MULTIPLE minds leading to division.
Without ONE unified mind, perspectives are driven by personal experience, decisions by personal preferences, and mission by personal benefit. And if someone in the church doesn’t’ agree with one's personal experience, preference, or mission, they'll leave OR, worse, destroy the unity.
Basically, we stop being a self-sacrificing family members and become a group of self-serving individuals. We stop living or loving like Jesus.
Of course, no one ever admits that because we’re ALL (wrongly) convinced that our particular preference is best for the family or the community. It doesn’t take long before the family is divided or destroyed. Even though they may even not “divide” in any formal sense; they may decide to tolerate each other and exist like“married” people living single lives in the same home.
The word that Paul uses in the beginning to be “UNITED” is a surgical term. The division in their relationships is not some unfortunate thing to be tolerated; it is hurting the body Christ and making them weak. There is no health, no growth, and no joy because the bones of the body are dislocated and need resetting—THIS IS ALWAYS PAINFUL. It is painful because rebuilding unity not only requires TRUST, it requires SELF-DENIAL.
And when you DE-CIDE to be self-denying, that vision that met your own personal preferences is potentially killed. This is not about denying your mind so that you can submit to what some other “louder” man says, or thinks, or does—like some kind of cult. This is about everyone denying themselves, elevating others, and finding unity in mission and mind of Christ:
3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, (Philippians 2.3-5).
The mind of Christ, as evidenced by the life of Christ, puts our commitments in this order: What God commands, what others need, THEN what I want.