What would Jesus do? This is often the most basic moral question that has been posed by countless Christians, but it generally has led to wrong theological and ethical conclusions. In short, Christ had a work to do in the Gospels that we could not do and the cup from which he drank, that we ourselves could not bear to drink. There is but one Christ and we are not Him. Instead, a better question to ask ourselves each and every day, especially during this pandemic is: What would Jesus have us do?
There have been considerable well-meaning discussions regarding this question during the current pandemic. There are many websites devoted to humanitarian aid and resourcing Christians and churches to think biblically about their participation efforts amidst this global stand still and quarantine. First, let me offer a fundamental distinction between what I feel is the charge Christ has given us, the Church, versus what some Christians might erroneously believe is the responsibility of the government or an N.G.O. I do not see a shred of scriptural evidence to suggest that Jesus Christ was a proponent of Gospel organizing activities around the use of government.
The government has its own sphere of authority as it serves as the adjudicator of justice (real justice, not social) and should never be the primary vehicle for Gospel ministry, much less social or humanitarian programs aimed with Gospel purposes. Every single thing Jesus taught us about sacrifice and service was directed to us as members of the corporate body of Christ and not as agents of civil government. We cannot pawn off our Christian duty to the government. Any politician or pastor who starts out by saying, “as Christians we need to…” and then in closing says, “pass this law because….” should be viewed with a healthy dose of suspicion and skepticism from both a moral and theological perspective.
It is often difficult in the West to see these distinctions because the government has encroached on so many social responsibilities that are incumbent upon the church and the family. Whether it be the primary responsibility to educate or the primary responsibility to promote and ensure our personal welfare, it is not the role or responsibility of civil government.
Second, as Christians we are taught that it is our responsibility to quietly work hard in order to provide for our families and to help others in need (1 Thess 4:11). Yet our ability to resource and financially support our family or give in sacrifice and service to our neighbor is largely dependent upon the present economic order. In short, our financial means only go so far during this economic shut down, in which the government has direct involvement. We are not Elijah and only a miracle of God can ensure the bread jar never runs dry in the midst of famine (1 Kgs 17:7-16).
Our economy is falling apart and if it collapses there will certainly come an entire new class of poor and sick that must be served. People are losing their jobs by the day. The addition to the unemployment rolls since this shut down has topped well over 22 million. With loss of work comes poverty. With poverty comes disease and despair. Without hope and in quiet desperation it leaves many vulnerable to their darker desires and baser instincts. Nothing good comes from idleness. This is the pathway to destruction and calamity (Prov. 6:10-11).
Right now, many churches and para-church organizations are being stretched financially as jobless patrons have no income to help support them. For their sake, it is necessary that we all go back to work. While it is often assumed, let me clear that it is not the responsibility of the government to act as a charity. Christians and churches must do this work and in the current state of affairs the government has made that impossible.
I realize that some might be thinking, “Go back to work? That could be dangerous!” Let me state that I understand the thought. It is natural to be fearful during this time, especially when so much information has been shared these past few weeks about the dangers of this virus. There are many new reports over the past two weeks that now suggest a new strategy to reopen the economy is absolutely necessary. We must act in shrewdness and be wise as serpents. Wisdom is not the avoidance of all risk, but careful consideration and counting of all costs before acting. Let’s not be fooled by a false dilemma foisted on the public, that in order to reopen the economy it means sacrificing the sick or the elderly. We have proof this is not true.
If we have no economy the sick, the elderly, and everyone in between will pay with their lives. So, how do we care for the least of these as Christians, when all of our work and means of financial provision have been stripped away from us and placed in the hands of government? The answer is simple: “We can’t.” We have work to do.
The time of isolation and quarantine have ended. Christians have done their part as good citizens to pay deference to the experts and adhere to guidelines of the quarantine, but now it is time to go back to the work. The government has done its job, but it is now up to us to be the hands and feet of Jesus in this world in both advancing the Gospel and providing for those in need. Our stewardship is dependent upon that mandate given to us in creation to increase, multiply and have dominion over the earth (Gen 1:28). Our God-given work awaits us and so does our next shift.