While the daily number of new cases of coronavirus in the UK appears to have reached its peak and is now on the way down, this does not mean the crisis is over. It certainly does not mean a return for any of us to what was previously called normal life.
Here in the UK, the government has announced a relaxation of some of the lockdown restrictions we have been living under for nearly two months.
Many people may have mixed feelings about the restrictions the government has introduced. On the one hand, these are clearly essential measures to mitigate the spread of the virus and to protect the lives of those most at risk. On the other hand, for almost all of us they have meant loss of income, loneliness, lack of physical activity and/or a negative effect on our mental health, among other issues.
As human beings we often have mixed feelings about living under rules others have imposed on us.
We like to have the freedom to make our own choices and to pursue whatever makes us feel happy or fulfilled. We may think that those in power over us are incompetent and don’t know what they’re doing. Or we may believe that they are untrustworthy and that the rules have been set up to provide an advantage to one group of people over the rest of us.
Yet at the same time, if we are in danger or facing a crisis, we may naturally look to those in positions of authority for protection or instruction. Typically we will submit to a set of rules or restrictions if those in power can guarantee that doing so will keep us safe or see us rewarded in some way.
At this time we naturally want a guarantee from the government that if we follow all of their rules regarding social distancing and self-isolation, we will be safe from the coronavirus. Unfortunately the government cannot guarantee that. Staying safe requires us to do more than simply obey a set of rules. We need to think for ourselves, to use common sense, to be aware of our surroundings, to be aware of the risks we may face or pose to others, and to do whatever will minimise that risk.
The same is true when it comes to obeying the rules God has given us for life.
While the Bible contains many instructions and regulations about how humans ought to behave towards God and towards one another, God never intended it to be a list of rules that we obey without thinking in order to obtain a reward at the end. Many people see Christianity that way, namely that we must strive to live a life of virtue and then if we’ve done a good enough job, God will reward us with eternal life after we die.
That was never God’s plan.
First, because there is no possible set of rules that could cover every single decision a human being might have to make in life.
The New Testament was written almost 2000 years ago when people knew nothing about what life would be like for us today. The Bible does not contain rules on 21st century concerns such as how to use the Internet wisely, how to drive responsibly, how to approach climate change or what to do about stem cell research.
God wants us to do so much more than just unthinkingly follow a set of rules. He wants us to think, to work out the moral principles from what is written in the Bible, and consider how they might apply to our situation. We need to make an effort. We need to honestly examine our life circumstances, our motivations and our conscience. We need to be willing to let the Bible tell us things about ourselves that we don’t want to hear. I cannot stress this enough, because human beings are usually very good at finding ways to interpret the rules that allow us to carry on simply doing whatever makes us happy.
Second, if God’s plan had been to reward with eternal life everyone who did a good enough job, we would all be doomed.
Why? Because none of us has done a good enough job. We’ve all done things that were motivated by selfishness or greed or dishonesty or prejudice or spite. We’ve all had moments when we forgot or ignored what God’s principles said, or when we found ways to interpret them to justify what we really wanted to do.
The good news is that God knew this would happen. He knew we would fail him. He knows what we’re like. He made us, after all!
He didn’t give us the Bible as if it were a legal document, expecting us to earn eternal life by signing up to it and then obeying all of its small print.
He gave us the Bible to invite us to form a relationship with him through his son Jesus.
God could have created a world full of robots programmed only to obey a set of fixed instructions, but instead he chose to create a world full of thinking, feeling creatures with the free will to choose how we respond to him.
I work in IT. I also have two children. I know from experience that while programming a computer to follow instructions is considerably easier than raising a child to do the same, the rewards do not even begin to compare. I believe the same is true for God.
God wants people who, even if they don’t always listen to him or do what he says, still trust him and come to him for help and forgiveness, because they have chosen to love him. We are God’s children, not his robots.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)