Things Are Bad, You’re the Problem, Do Better
For what feels like the six thousandth time, I sat down at around 3:30 MT this afternoon and watched the latest COVID update from Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health. I’m not sure why I do this, exactly. I suppose like everyone, I hope to see the number of new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths begin to fall. Like everyone, I watch for signs of hope that the latest round of restrictions might be lifted. Like many over the last nine months, I’ve grown sort of accustomed to useless doom-scrolling and update watching. You want to feel like you’re up to date on this miserable virus that has so radically altered our experience. This is just what we do these days, I guess.
These press conferences tend to follow a rather predictable formula. In calm, measured tones, we are told that the situation is very bad. This is followed by a solemn reminder that our unwillingness to fully adhere to all the health guidelines is the reason that things are very bad. And then comes the disapproving admonition to do a better job of following the rules to make it less bad (this last bit comes in varying degrees of severity depending on the numbers). Sprinkle in a bit of sympathy for the victims and updates on the latest gathering restrictions, rinse and repeat, and you have virtually every press conference since March.
It struck me, as I watched today’s update, that this is precisely the formula that many Christians tend to operate with in their understanding of faith. Things are very bad. You’re the problem. Do better. This is true in both very conservative and very liberal Christian circles. Conservative Christians tend to locate the “doing better” in the realm of accepting the correct doctrinal package about God, sin, salvation, etc. You must believe more and better about God. Liberal Christians tend to locate the “doing better” in the more terrestrial domains of working more strenuously for justice, being more anti-racist, less homophobic, less patriarchal, etc. You must do more and better for God.
It’s exhausting to watch these COVID press conferences and constantly be scolded for not doing enough or being a good enough citizen. It’s just as exhausting to hear Christians—conservative or liberal—rehearse the same wearisome formula in the realm of faith. We surely are in need of better news than, “you must do better.”
Christmas is coming. And then, before long, it will be Easter. Incarnation, cross, resurrection. The collective pounding heartbeat of the Christian faith. As the end of a very long year draws nigh, I am thankful that the gospel is not, in fact, the theological equivalent of a COVID update. Instead, it might sound be something like this: The situation is very bad. You’re partly to blame and partly not. God has done for you and for the world what you could never do for yourselves. God has, in Christ, shown you a better way to live and to love and promised a hopeful future beyond all your striving and struggle. You are invited to participate in the new creation that is being born.
At the very least, this sounds a lot more hopeful and inspiring than: Things are bad. You’re the problem. Do better.