The Danger of 'Covid Brain' in the Church and How to Escape It
In the medical field, “Covid brain” refers to the effects of physical sickness on the brain’s ability to function correctly. Some call it brain fog. However, I would argue that the psychological and spiritual effects of Covid are more dangerous and harmful. The “Covid brain” to which I’m referring is the mentality and worldview shift brought about by the virus and our response to it. To an extent, we all suffer from ‘Covid brain’ in some form or another.
Over the last two years, we have voluntarily (and involuntarily) changed the way we live life at the behest of our governments. Many churches closed their doors in fear of the virus itself, and a majority of those churches kept their doors closed in fear of the political and social repercussions. Collectively, isolation, distancing, and masking our faces have marked our lives, and Christians have embraced this change by citing love of neighbour. However, this response to Covid-19 has done everything but love our neighbour. We have used the Great Commandment as a cloak to hide our self-preservation instinct, and instead of risking our lives to serve those around us, we have moved to the other side of the road and passed by those in need. As is evident, the virus has spread despite our grandest efforts to stop it. And now, on a relational level, Christians have allowed vaccination status to become a shibboleth for fellowship, dividing Christ’s body over it.
Many churches introduced online services to accommodate government mandates, and at the start, these worked. But as the reality of Covid set in, the projections and predictions that required the lockdown proved drastically overstated. For instance, the health officials initially projected over three thousand deaths in six months where I live, and two years later, we have yet to reach one thousand. Each death is tragic, to be sure, and sickness is nothing to play with, but to drastically overstate projections and remain steadfast in believing them despite clear evidence against them is insanity. So, as the evidence proved Covid was not as deadly as first thought, the argument for online church weakened.
The church is not supposed to be online, and as we have now experienced, it is highly dysfunctional and impractical. While we might see it fit not to gather for a period of time because of pandemics or war, Christians cannot live without the fellowship of other believers. The church is a community of believers, designed by God to sanctify us by strengthening, encouraging, exhorting, and rebuking us. For this, we must be face to face, and shoulder to shoulder.
Think about the letters of the New Testament and how they were written to churches and church leaders. The word “you” is plural, meaning the entire body of believers over 90% of the time, and when it speaks to an individual, it speaks to one who leads a church and how they might lead it better. The New Testament assumes the centrality of church life in the life of a believer. Perhaps Covid has done nothing more than showing us how much we value the church.
In Peter’s first letter, he writes to Christians dispersed because of persecution, most likely under Nero. His letter begins with encouragement in the gospel, followed by an exhortation to live sanctified lives. One would think Peter is insensitive to his listener’s plight because he does not tell them how to avoid persecution or compromise with the emperor without compromising their faith. However, Peter’s letter serves as an example of our attitude when our world is not as it should be.
Paul also indicates this in his letter to the Corinthians. The church must be united in Christ, not by culture, ethnicity, or political philosophy; it must be set apart from the world for God, not compromised with the world; and it must be characterized by humility and love. Peter picks up on these three by setting the tone of his letter with the gospel of Christ, then focuses on living sanctified and set apart while sprinkling encouragement to be humble and loving to one another.
How can those three characteristics flow freely through the body of Christ if it does not meet?
If you think it can be done online, compare your interactions with others online against your interactions with others in person. They are vastly different, less real online, more real in person.
This brings us back to the influence Covid (and our response to it) has had on our physical interactions with others. Not only are we suspect of their health and vaccination status, but we suspect their mentality about it all. It seems as though we have to know what they think about everything Covid related before we know whether we can have fellowship with them. Further, if we disagree, it is not a simple disagreement. Disagreement can quite quickly turn vitriolic. Why this is the case varies, but the one thing I know is it is the antithesis of what it means to be a Christian. This is where I think ‘Covid brain’ is most damaging.
How do we rid ourselves of ‘Covid brain’?
I think Peter’s formula for church life is the key:
The fear and panic-filled rhetoric that has flooded our minds from every direction subvert the hope of the gospel. We have allowed the fear of getting sick (and others around us) to overcome our fear of God, resulting in anxiety and despair. The gospel is the message of hope, not that things will get better someday, but that we belong to an entirely different kingdom in Christ. The gospel is a message of eternal life in a world trying their hardest to save their mortal life.
The gospel also ties us together to every other believer through Christ, the unbreakable bond transcending us. If we lose sight of Him, we lose sight of our bond and turn to earthly things to unite us.
The gospel causes us to be set apart from this world for Christ, causing our ties to earthly possessions and even our earthly body to loosen. It takes our eyes off temporary ills and struggles and directs them to eternal bliss. As a result, our attitude about life, those around us, and the trials we face become positive and hopeful.
3. Humility and Love
Many have argued that the loving thing to do is to stay away from others and not pass any virus to them. Christ’s love, however, has no such boundaries. What did He do for the lepers? He did not run from them or try His hardest to avoid them, as did the others who regarded them as almost subhuman. Instead, He cared for them. Loving others is not being careless to others. But it means going to them to serve and care for them. While love “does not insist on its own way,” it “does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:5-6).
Whether you are for or against, calm or fearful, you must admit that ‘Covid brain’ is deadly and dangerous for church life. We desperately need encouragement in the gospel and exhortations to live holy lives and love others in humility.