With the arrival of the SARS-COVID-19 virus, our lives have been disrupted. Governments around the world have scrambled to understand the virus, test for it, and treat it. In Canada, we have seen a response like many other countries. The main policy approach has been to limit contact between citizens in order to limit the spread of the infectious virus. Citizens have come to expect the recurring policy of “lockdowns” as the main way to stop the infectious spread of the virus.
But is the ongoing lockdown policy in Canada spreading something worse than the coronavirus? Have we lost something of our humanity during this season? These sorts of questions lead to a larger, more profound question, “What kind of Canada do we want?”
In Danger of Losing Our Humanity
As Christian believers, one aspect of our calling is to cry with those who cry. Crying together requires intimacy including physical and emotional support. This fall, while attending a funeral, an elderly lady was in tears, remembering the departure of her own husband years ago. I (Yanick) was walking with her in the icy November wind, and this dear sister was crying. I then broke the sanitary rules by gently touching her back to console her. In using this simple gesture, I realized how much we have lost of our humanity in this crisis; I was technically at fault and liable to a fine. I couldn’t help but think that we need to examine where we are heading as a society. We need to reflect on what defines human relationships, in the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
How ironic that measures that undoubtedly seek to save lives bruise so many at the same time.
Could the greater danger that awaits us beyond the virus be the loss of our humanity? How ironic that measures that undoubtedly seek to save lives bruise so many at the same time. As a pastor, we rub shoulders with mental illness, isolation, and depression. And we joyfully accept being called to listen, to encourage, and to endure this tangible distress that is growing. We will continue to do so while asking ourselves: how are we to honour and assist those whom God has created in his image so that they can get through this pandemic?
When we look at measures to stop the spread of the virus, the deepest motivation is compassion. Jesus said, “Love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27). So out of compassion for others, we restrict our movements, distance ourselves, wear masks and wash our hands. Currently, this expression of compassion is prized in Canada above all others. However, something has happened across the nation. Compassion has been narrowed to only these government-mandated practices.
It is not that compassion has been eliminated, but many other expressions of compassion have been prohibited. It injures our conscience to think that abandoning a loved one to die alone is in any way better than limiting the possibility of future infections. To narrow compassion to the mere possibility of infection but prohibiting compassion toward present need goes against conscience. As James 4:17 says, “So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.”
Normally, when someone chooses to freely express their love, they can do so with great creativity. They can see each other, hug each other, match the tone in their voice with the many nearly imperceptible signals of non-verbal communication. Yet when compassion is narrowed drastically to only social distancing and lockdown measures, we can feel that God’s intended design for us as social, expressive beings has been cauterized.
Leaning into a video call is very different than the command to “greet one another with a holy kiss” (2 Cor 13:12). Or at the very least, think of the intimacy of the sick in the land of Gennesaret who came to Jesus and “implored him that they might only touch the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well” (Matthew 14:36).
As the virus and its impact are reassessed, can there be a widening of compassion that includes both wise hygiene and human touch?
What Kind of Canada Do We Want?
Canada is a nation that aims to be a compassionate society. Compassion for human beings, whether they speak French or English or Mandarin or Hindi, draws people to come to Canada from around the world. Canadians have embraced the compassionate response to the virus by complying with social distancing measures. Is it not time for policymakers to admit that this narrowing of compassion cannot be sustained in the same form? Our country needs a renewed openness to diverse kinds of compassion, for diverse lives, from the womb to the hospice, in order to celebrate the dignity of Canadian citizens created in the image of God.
Is it not time for Christians to invite our society to open wider the arms of compassion?
Christians can and should ask a gentle question: as this health crisis continues and as new social codes (including a new type of etiquette) define our relationships with each other, is it not time for Christians to invite our society to open wider the arms of compassion? Should we not call others to widen the gaze of their compassion?
May we be inspired by a spirit of gentleness (Phil 4:5) to invite our communities into an open dialogue about how we can get back to sharing gestures of love and compassion towards our neighbours. With humility, we should bring this question of bigger and wider compassion to the public square.
The French version of the article can be found here.