I have been reluctant to add to the din around COVID. There’s too many people pooling their ignorance already, and even the experts are rapidly changing their minds about various key details like how it spreads, how fast, and the best ways to stop it.
Let’s begin by accepting that we actually know very little. Most of the expert recommendations at this point are based on theory — sound theory, sure, but theory, not actual clinical studies of this disease. The experts have a general idea of how diseases like this behave, and are making their best guesses (which, let’s face it, are likely to be better than my guesses, but they’re still guesses). It’s a new disease, and we have to study it.
This is one of the central insights that let to modern science in the first place: You can’t just sit in a chair and extrapolate from first principles; God made the world with an endless capacity to surprise us all, even the experts. The clinical studies to confirm/disconfirm the guesses will come, if someone cares to fund them, but good science is hard, and expensive, and takes quite a bit of time. Like experience, it tends to arrive shortly after you need it.
Whether you should trust the experts, and which experts, and how far you should trust them, is a question for another post. (Likewise the question of whether you should trust giant media companies to select your experts for you.) The only thing I’ll say about that here is that you should do a quick idol check: if the paragraphs above bothered you because they implied that the experts might all be wrong, you need to look at that. The Tacoma Narrows bridge fell into the gorge; the Challenger fell out of the sky; thalidomide fell into disrepute. These things did not happen because of a change in fashions; the experts were catastrophically wrong about the way the real world behaves. If you look to experts for your security, you’re going to be disappointed.
You’re going to have to make decisions in the absence of complete information. You do that every day, but now you’re being forced to admit it. God is reminding us that the realities of James 4:13-17 are always with us:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”
The question of the day is, shall I wear a mask when I leave home? For some of you, your public health authorities are answering this question for you. Assuming you have a choice, here are seven things to think about:
- Remember that good ethical decisions are founded on facts, and a number of the salient facts are in question. Someone disagreeing with you on a point of fact (and therefore doing something different) doesn’t make them a bad person. “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls.” (Romans 14:4)
- Uncertainty does not justify selfishly ignoring others’ safety or carelessly ratifying the latest trend in public panic. If the primary driver of your decisions is your personal convenience or reputation–repent. God sees your heart; you can’t use the public uncertainty for cover with Him. Love your neighbor; esteem others better than yourself. Make your decision from that place.
- If you believe that leaving home without a mask is a foolish risk to your family, or recklessly exposes your neighbors to danger, then wear a mask. Don’t violate your conscience.
- If your neighbors are terrified and wearing a mask would make them less afraid, it is permissible to accommodate them by wearing a mask, even if you think it’s stupid. Think about it: if you were taking a meal to a shut-in with a pathological fear of blue shirts, would you wear a blue shirt? Of course not. If the need of the moment is to get the man some supper, then change into the green shirt, and deliver the food. Keep your priorities straight.
- It is not loving to coddle pathological fears forever. At some point, a therapist, a minister, or a good friend should show up at the shut-in’s door in a blue shirt, and help him work through it. How and when to do this is a matter for much wisdom and prayer. This is to say, there will come a day when you go out without a mask. Unless you’re the very last person in your city to take off the mask, someone is going to be uncomfortable with your decision. Let them be uncomfortable.
- If your primary reason for wearing a mask is that you can’t handle people looking askance at you, then take it off. Bowing to peer pressure and fear of public shame are unworthy of a follower of Jesus. Anything you do, in your whole life, needs a better reason than that.
- Listen to God about all of this. Make your decision prayerfully. And having made it, be bold! God has not given us a spirit of fear.