The Gospel & COVID-19: Part 3, Love as Distance

One of the theological challenges of COVID-19 is thinking through what love looks like after the discovery of the germ theory of disease.

In the gospels, we see Jesus touching lepers. But the Bible was written before the germ theory of disease. The early Christians on through the Middle Ages were noteworthy in caring for and nursing plague victims. But the early Christians didn't know anything about infectious diseases.

Basically, in the Bible and throughout most of church history, the Christian ethic of love has been one of approach and contact, even in the face of disease and plague. Jesus touches lepers, Christians rush toward plague victims. Love embraces. That's how Christians are taught and morally formed, we love by moving toward each other.

But since the discovery of germ theory, this ethic of approach, touch, and embrace has been complicated. COVID-19 has made this abundantly clear. As everyone is sharing now, love is distance. We care for each other by staying away from each other, especially away from the most vulnerable among us.

But love as distance is, to put it mildly, one of the most disorienting and confusing aspects of COVID-19. As Christians, we've had it drilled into us that love is approach, touch, and embrace. That's how our hearts have been formed. But now we're supposed to stay far away from each other? Intellectually this makes sense, but emotionally it doesn't. We want to rush toward each other, to gather, to hug, to hold hands, to be close. Because that's what love does, love is closeness.

Unless love is distance. 

This paradox and tension is one of the great moral, social, emotional, and theological challenges of COVID-19. Sadly, I have no great insights to share about this. I'll keep thinking about it. All I really wanted to point out is how COVID-19 is posing a unique theological challenge. HIV, given that it is bloodborne pathogen, didn't trigger this paradox when it emerged. You could embrace the HIV+. Overcoming fear to embrace the HIV+ matched up well with the gospel model of Jesus touching lepers. But not so with COVID-19.

So we're in uncharted territory, figuring out how to lean into the Christian ethic of embrace, touch, and care while also practicing social distancing. Love as distance is loving, but the distance is creating isolation and abandonment. How to keep each other safe from infection while staying close to each other as well? That's the gospel challenge of the moment.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply