The World Hasn’t Changed

This crisis has brought to light just how many of our neighbors live in poverty or only a missed paycheck or two away from it. This isn’t a new problem, and it shouldn’t take a pandemic for us to notice it, but now we have even less of an excuse for not addressing it.

During the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve heard more than a few people claim that the world has changed, or words to that effect. Perhaps it’s our lack of historical awareness, or simply our tendency to treat everything as new and different, that leads us to think so. Particular circumstances have changed, of course, and will continue to change, but “the world” hasn’t changed, at least not in a fundamental sense. Not only have there been many pandemics in human history, crises are a fact of life. The pandemic may be the first crisis of this magnitude in your lifetime, or the first one to demand your attention, but it certainly won’t be the last.

To recognize this fact is not to minimize the importance of the current crisis or its effects on all of us, especially the most vulnerable members of society. Indeed, amid all the chaos, this crisis has brought to light just how many of our neighbors live in poverty or only a missed paycheck or two away from it. This isn’t a new problem, and it shouldn’t take a pandemic for us to notice it, but now we have even less of an excuse for not addressing it.

Likewise, as much as we may want to return to “business as usual,” this crisis has brought to light just how much our planet is harmed by business as usual, economically speaking. For all its benefits, the consumerist economy that has left so many people behind has proven to be even worse for the environment, to the point that it’s almost too late to do anything about climate change other than prepare for the fallout, the brunt of which will be borne by many of the same people suffering as a result of the pandemic.

The world hasn’t changed, but we must change how we inhabit the world.

The events of the last two months have caused many of us to reflect on matters that we too often ignore, including the limits of technology, our need for community, and above all our mortality; no matter how healthy or wealthy we may be, we are not long for this world. Such reflection is all to the good, provided that it causes us to act. As Christians, we shouldn’t worry about anything, because God will give us a peace that surpasses our understanding (Phil. 4:6-7), and because our hope is not in physical health or financial security but in Christ (1 Tim. 4:10). This hope should free us to develop different habits and priorities, ones more attuned to the needs of our neighbors and our planet.

The pandemic does demand our immediate attention, but eventually it will pass, and we’ll be left with more enduring problems. Will we respond to them with the same level of dedication?

Dr. Coleman Fannin has been an adjunct instructor of religion at Berry College since 2017. He has a PhD from the University of Dayton.

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