The Gospel of Jesus Christ sums up the centre of Christianity. Our unity around the Gospel transcends all terrestrial loyalties.
And yet I wonder if we have allowed patterns of thinking to influence our minds that do not match our confession of the Gospel. Has our virus culture made us less in touch with what unites us? I think it might have in at least three ways.
First, we divide over our vaccine status
The Gospel not only reconciles us to God it also transforms human relationships. Since Jesus humbled himself out of love for humanity, we must then “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3). The cross shows God’s love for us. It shows us how to live: “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).
Tragically, we have allowed one’s vaccination status to make us think we are better than others, depending on our choice to vaccinate or not. I saw recently someone complain that Doug Ford in Ontario gave an end date for the vaccine passport. They felt this gives the unvaccinated a free pass. But why does it matter?
And it is not just vaccinated persons. Some unvaccinated people have also lashed out in frustration at others. They call dear brothers and sisters in Christ sheep. They consider them fools. Granted, they may have good reason to be frustrated. In Ontario, an unvaccinated person cannot dine in a restaurant or work out in a gym. Some unvaccinated persons may even lose their jobs.
Despite these hardships, lashing out at others in our frustrations accomplishes little. It does not imitate Christ who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:6–7).
Whether vaccinated or not, we are talking about a human being who is created in God’s image. We can disagree with someone, think their decision to be foolish, and yet show genuine love and care to that person despite all that.
On both ends of the spectrum, we can judge one another on the basis of vaccination status. That ought not to be.
We have the love of God shed abroad in our hearts (Rom 5:5). We can and must love each other.
Second, we live merely to survive
We can only live in a society of survival when death feels ever-present. Even before the pandemic, many of us valued health as an end in itself. We live to sustain our health, not to live the good life—a life dedicated to doing good and enjoying God.
The fear of the virus, of harm, changed that. Even the low probability of death makes us cautious and ready to practice the survival tactics of distancing and isolation. We must survive, even if that might mean lockdowns and restrictions. We live under a haze of death, living like zombies as Byung-Chul Han notes.
But God calls us to a different sort of life, a life that lives and knows that immortality is our crown—our inheritance is in the resurrection. We therefore ought to wisely and cautiously avoid harm to our body without seeing our mere survival as the most important thing.
To live in hope of immortality would be counter cultural. But we must live in this way. We “do not grieve like the rest of mankind” (1 Thess 4:13) because “this mortal body must put on immortality” (1 Cor 15:53).
We sometimes find it surprising how many demand restrictions and health measures. We should not be surprised. If health and the maintenance of health is all that matters—think of health gurus, health supplements, and magazines that all promise health—then a health-culture transforms into a society of survival during a pandemic.
Following health guidelines is not the problem. We should generally follow these guidelines. I am here talking about how we experience our life in a state of survival—living as if the mere preservation of health is all that matters in and of itself.
That kind of survival mindset does not correspond to the Gospel, to the hope of the resurrection. And it subtly creates a divide even among those who follow health guidelines. We can begin to see each other as potential carriers of the virus. As Han writes, “In the pandemic everyone is treated like a criminal” (2021: 88). We should view each other as those with dignity and worth, and not as potential carriers of the virus.
There is more to life than survival.
Third, we divide over matters of indifference
Regulations have made life inconvenient. The state limits our personal freedoms, and we dislike those limits. Yet the state generally cannot bind our religious conscience because it does not require something beyond the Gospel for our salvation.
Obviously, governments could try to do so by asking us to renounce Christ. But in the usual course of events, governments can only restrict our outward works.
John Calvin makes this argument in his Institutes (4.10.3–9ff). Calvin accuses the Roman Church of binding consciences by adding certain works which are required for salvation. But the government of our times does not add to the Gospel. It compels our outward work, perhaps unjustly, but it does not require us to add to the Gospel of freedom.
Broadly speaking, the government cannot bind our conscience because the state does not control our thoughts, our faith, and so our conscience. The Christian’s conscience primarily centres on our relationship to God. This is why we might be jailed, but we are still free men and women.
After being imprisoned, Paul tells us, “I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ” (Phil 1:12–13).
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul too maintains we are free in Christ, free against the tendency to add law to the Gospel. Our bodies might be bound in chains, but our conscience is free in Christ.
Despite Paul’s contentment and despite the Gospel proceeding despite external restraints, we have acted as if state regulations or restrictions can stop Christianity, the message of the Gospel. We have divided over the merest of politics rather than uniting upon the Gospel of freedom.
The Gospel frees us from any external law placed over us. It means that our vaccination status means little to our freedom in Christ. The one barred from the gym, and the one inside the gym are both free, if in Christ. Christian freedom centres on a good conscience before God, as one justified before the Judge of all the earth.
Political and medical matters remain important, yet they are matters of indifference when it comes to Christian unity and living as free Christians. The Gospel of Jesus Christ unites. Political affiliation or medical opinions do not make a Christian—they do not ground our unity. These matters of salvific indifference should not divide us.
We have lived according to the categories of the world and wonder why the church has fractured. Only the Gospel can help us.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12:2).
 I am following Byung-Chul Han’s thinking on our culture of survival. His thoughts inform my thinking there thoroughly.