it's up to you - god pointing
Image: Sal Falko on Flickr
Is it best for each of us to take responsibility for ourselves or to be told what to do and how to do it?

This is a fundamental question in different approaches to government but also raises questions about the strengths and weaknesses we exhibit as human beings.

The latest move from the government – to take advantage of the summer season and schools being closed, as well as address people’s frustrations and the economic challenges many business are facing – is to hand responsibility for safe living in this pandemic to each of us individually.

It’s always nice when rules are relaxed especially when we have learned well about the issues they have been in place to help us navigate. Often such rules and their accompanying messages become second nature anyway. I use a seatbelt to protect myself, and not to avoid a fine. I clean my teeth because I would like to keep what’s left of them rather than for fear that my mum will tell me off.

But there is a difference between taking personal responsibility because of my own wellbeing and taking social responsibility for the sake of others. I may be glad to not wear a mask, but my neighbour may be nervous that they will be impacted by this choice. Being told what to do hopefully addresses this – but with such broad sweeps and with so many confusions that it can feel very restrictive rather than mutually caring.

This was addressed in the church in Europe 500 years ago. Faith and discipleship tended to be imposed from above. This ensured that people would be baptised as babies and so go to heaven. Not a bad motivation. But it meant that individuals missed out on the bible, on developing a personal relationship with Jesus, on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. So among the reformers there was a shift towards personal belief, believer’s baptism, the bible in people’s own language and new forms of church.

What is sometimes missed when reading the history of these times is not the developments in personal responsibility in bible reading or even finding faith and baptism, but in the way that new radical church communities began to explore their social responsibility – to one another and to their neighbours. These groups didn’t just go to church – they formed ways of caring and sharing that were impressive and even threatening to the existing orders. The Mennonites, for instance trace their roots to 16th century radical reformation like this.

This is probably the way through for us as church today. We uphold and respect those in authority, and we also take our own personal responsibility seriously; and take care not to go to an unthinking extreme in either. But through and above both these, we follow Jesus’ instructions to love the Lord our God and love our neighbour as ourselves.

There is a theme in the book of Romans which is all about acknowledging difference of opinion and values but choosing not to judge each other or distress one another.

Romans 14:

7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord…10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt?... 19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.

Therefore, we don’t automatically complain when there are situations in which we should follow legal rules such as wearing a face-covering and keeping our distance.

We seek to ensure that others around us are made comfortable and feel safe with our own behaviour.
We choose not to resent those who appear to behave more freely or even with less thought than we believe we do.

We take sensible precautions when there are lots of people around – for their sake as much as our own – and may freely choose to wear a face-covering or to keep our distance to play our part in preventing a spread of the virus.

We need to pray for ourselves – especially in the emotion, hope and frustration in these shifting times. Its not selfish to pray for ourselves – it is a great place to start and will always lead to us drawing close to God and finding his healthy holiness.

And we continue to pray for great decisions from the government, for safety for the vulnerable, for protection for those whose jobs are at risk and for opportunities to give away the grace and power of Jesus.

Martin J Young


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