The Gospel & COVID-19: Part 1, The Power of the Devil

Like you, I've had a lot of thoughts and experiences since the US started implementing social distancing to flatten the curve of COVID-19.

So, a few posts to share some thoughts about the gospel during times of a pandemic.

The main thing I've been thinking about is my book The Slavery of Death.

In the book I spend time thinking through this text from Hebrews:
Hebrews 2.14-15
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
Using Orthodox theology and existential psychology, the argument I make in The Slavery of Death is how our fear of death becomes the "power of the devil" in our lives, the source of human sin.

Psychologically, death anxiety manifests in one of two ways, as either basic anxiety or neurotic anxiety. In the West, insulated as we've been from threats of physical death, our death anxiety has tended to manifest neurotically, in things like shame, low self-esteem, envy, vanity, or competitiveness. We wonder if we're living meaningful lives, or if our lives measure up to some standard of comparison.

Basic anxiety, by contrast, is survival and resource anxiety. We in the West have been largely spared this sort of anxiety. We've been protected by our affluence and abundance.

But COVID-19 has changed all this. Suddenly, we're seeing a surge of basic death anxiety take hold of the West. Which is a unique situation to behold, how we react, individually and collectively, to basic death anxiety. We've never see this in our lifetimes.

The basic death anxiety is hitting us in two different ways. The first is the straightforward threat of infection and possible death, for ourselves or someone we love.

The second is a resource-based anxiety, triggered by scarcity. Across the nation, you see this scarcity-driven anxiety leading to hoarding. When things turned in the US last Thursday and Friday, our family was on a Spring Break trip. We returned home Sunday evening 48 hours after a lot of the shopping panic had set in. We couldn't find toilet paper in any of the stores we shop at. Totally empty shelves.

It's all an illustration of what I describe in The Slavery of Death, how our moral failures, like hoarding, aren't driven by "total depravity," they are driven by anxiety. Contrary to what the Calvinists believe, we don't sin because we're morally depraved, we sin because we are scared.

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