What 2020 Taught Us About Ourselves
It seems the times we see ourselves most clearly are the times we are pushed out of our comfort zones, to our limits, or into untested waters. This past year did all of that to us collectively in various forms. We learned what we are about, who our influences are, and how the people around us react to trouble in ways unlike we've experienced before. But there are some things that we as Christians, in particular, have learned about ourselves, and it is good for us to sit back and reflect on it because when we know who we are, we can better progress in our walk of faith.
Here are a couple of things that come to mind.
1. We need each other
This year was a year of forced isolation. One of the most important things it showed us was we were more willing to collectively forgo mental and spiritual health for the sake of physical health. I know it wasn't just for our physical health; there were moral obligations put on us that were never considered as ethical issues before; there were threats of fines and other consequences. However, those who pushed back against the isolation surprisingly found themselves in better health than those who did not. One Gallup poll showed the difference in mental health from 2019 to 2020, and only one group improved: the people who went to church weekly.
We need each other, but most importantly, we need each other to encourage and spur us onward in the faith.
Church attendance isn't important because it's an opportunity to see our friends and family. It isn't important because it's a religious thing to do. Church attendance is essential because it's one of the main means God uses to form us. It forms us into the image of Christ because there God's Word is proclaimed and expounded, and we receive encouragement, accountability, counsel, and support from each other.
2. We need to understand Christian freedom
When I say "Christian freedom," I don't mean the ability for Christians to do whatever they want even if God (or the government) says otherwise. Christian freedom is about the conscience. It is about doing what our conscience says when the Bible isn't clear on an issue. One of those grey areas is the Christian's relation to the government. The Bible calls Christians to pray for their governments, submit to their laws, and pay their taxes, but their true allegiance is to the kingdom of God. When the government impedes or obstructs Christian duties to proclaim the gospel and worship God, Christians have a moral obligation to obey God over the government. But what happens in the case of a pandemic? What happens when the government tells Christians not to meet or care for the sick and elderly's spiritual needs to slow the spread of a virus?
The problem is the situation we faced in 2020 and continue to face today isn't that simple. As anyone can observe, the government has been vague and inconsistent, yet totalitarian-like trying to control the virus. For most of us, only a handful of people we know have had the virus, and even fewer who have died of it. That is not to be taken as insensitive to the affected people, but to point out the way the media and government portray the pandemic does not correspond with experience. Because of this, many Christians are perplexed about how they should react. It is not a simple, cut and dried issue for them.
The other problem many Christians face is one of moral obligation to love one another. Our culture is full of fear, and it does not help calm the fearful by treating the pandemic as nothing. Further, to love our fellow man, we don't wish to inflict harm on them, even indirectly.
If a Christian decides to oppose the governmental restrictions, they say they do so for the sake of truth. If a Christian decides to comply, they say they do so for the sake of love. This is the fundamental problem: are the first group of Christians really living according to what is true, or are they simply avoiding inconvenience, and are the second group of Christians really loving their neighbour, or are they simply avoiding controversy?
How should Christians respond?
That is up to them. I cannot condemn them for their choice because it is fundamentally a matter of conscience. As a Christian, I must make up my mind about what I must do and care for those who make up their minds differently.
I think that is the point Paul makes in Romans 14 when he tells the strong believers not to despise the weak ones, nor the weak believers to judge the strong. His exhortation is strongly needed today: "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother" (Romans 14:13). To those who resist governmental regulations, do not grieve or hurt those brothers and sisters who comply. To those who comply, do not condemn the brothers and sisters who resist. That is what walking in brotherly love towards one another looks like, and we need a whole lot more of it in the days ahead.
 My great-grandfather's first wife died of the Spanish flu in the early 1900s, along with many others, especially children, in the surrounding villages and towns. What I experience today is nothing like that.