It is not uncommon as of late to hear people say, “We are living in unprecedented times,” or “These are very uncertain times.” To say the least, the times are certainly unusual. To borrow a phrase from the internet, the world has really “gone viral.” Except, instead of people referring to online cat videos or come other cute internet clip or quip, one is actually referring to humanity in living in the shadow of the so-called novel coronavirus. Nonetheless, are these really “unprecedented times” or are they perhaps just inconvenient times?

If one views the reactions to the coronavirus locally, nationally, and globally, these reactions and overreactions provide an interesting reflection of humanity. When one compares these reactions with previous epidemics and pandemics, it seems striking that humanity seems to have lost a considerable capacity to confront illness and death. On the brighter side, modern medicine has become very good at curing or at least at treating an unprecedented number of ailments. To “get better” is the expectation, not the exception.

In comparison to the miracles of modern medicine, society as a whole seems to be heading in the opposite direction. The disintegration of the family, of neighbourhoods, of common values and morals, and even of the common sense of being a nation is evident everywhere. Many call this disintegration “progress,” but it needs to be asked to what is this progressive disintegration leading? To what are we supposed to be progressing? How will we know when we have arrived?

The church throughout history has fallen into the same trap. For most of the church’s history, even into our times, the church has been dogged by the idea that we sinful human beings should and can make “progress” in or towards our salvation, in or towards our relationship with God. According to this thinking, if one just attends church enough, follows the rules enough, prays enough, reads the Bible enough, and gives enough money, one will get closer and closer to the kingdom of God, the pearly gates, etc., but how much is enough?

These hopes are all based on the notion that one can somehow get one’s sinful human “flesh” to improve. If the church can just motivate sinners to be more church-going, more rule-following, more God-fearing, more Bible-reading, and more holy all around, then in time the whole world will become a better place to be. Sadly, like the rest of society “church people” seem to be getting worse rather than better at these things. In contrast, non-churched people seem to think that the world is actually getting better by not doing these things. Maybe “church people” are getting worse at these things because they believe that non-churched people are actually right.

In light of the coronavirus, how do non-believers gauge what is saving for them? Do they even care? Some do, and some do not. For those who “care,” protecting themselves and others from the coronavirus is a moral duty. It is represented in all manner of ways, like lockdowns, face masks, hand washing, hand wringing, closing gyms, restaurants, schools, churches, etc. Not that those are bad things if necessary, but are they and when are debated? Where are the studies to support some of these measures? Scientific or not, the prevailing rationale in all this seems to predicated on the notion that it is “good” for humanity to put life on hold in order to save lives. That seems to be a contradiction in terms, one designed more to avoid litigation than actually saving lives. By the way, what does saving a mortal life actually mean?

Across the board regardless of the category or crisis, human efforts of the religious and non-religious, of believers and non-believes, of the churched and the non-churched seem hell bent on making things better, on progressing to some better point, all in the hope at some point eventually to defy death through human determination. All these efforts and all this energy and all the associated exertion and expenditure, however, seem to have overlooked the fact that at best we may or may not be delaying death in a significant way.

In relation to what can and cannot be achieved by our sinful, human efforts, God has already done what none of our efforts could ever do. When God the Father sent God the Son into our broken, sinful world to be broken by our sin and killed on a cross, God did not proclaim the merits of human progress. Instead, the cross reveals the reality of all human efforts to achieve or acquire eternal life. In other words, all such human efforts are a dead end.

Jesus’ cross and resurrection have revealed to sinful humanity that God is not interested in progress, in us getting better bit by bit. Instead, God has delved into death to conquer death itself. In the cross, God put an end to all human efforts to better their lives in pursuit of eternal life. In the resurrection, God takes dead sinners and creates them anew and thereby grants them the image of his Son. This begins now in baptism, being killed and raised already in this life. The promise of the resurrection means that regardless of what happens in this life, we do not need to put life on hold. Instead, we are called to live life here and now to the fullest, as a gift, believing that something better, something more fulfilling, something more living has already been given to us in the life, death, and resurrection of the word made flesh, of Jesus Christ.