Going back a month or two, you may remember that when asked, Boris Johnson promised that if necessary, the armed forces would be made available to help with the effort against COVID-19. This led to predictable headlines and tweets about troops on the street and people claiming that the Government was using the pandemic as a cover for an authoritarian take over.
At the time, I (among others) suggested that the military were more likely to be used to back fill into some policing activities such as more counter terrorism work and to provide logistical support especially as we moved towards mass testing and vaccines. You see, the military have incredible logistical capabilities. The UK’s military logistics have legendary status going back to the Falklands conflict and a country managing to deploy a task force thousands of miles away. For those reasons, when people want to learn about logistics and operations management, it often includes studies in military methods. Indeed during my MSc we were treated to a guest lecture from the army. Yet we were told that we were being naïve
Yet here we are in a week when in fact the promise of military support has been fulfilled. How have the army been used, have we seen armed patrols at school home time to ensure that the kids socially distance? Have they been conducting house to house searches for evidence of stockpiling? Were snipers stationed on the Welsh border to support Mark Drayford’s attempts to keep people from Tier 2 and 3 locations from entering the principality.
No, none of those things have happened. Instead, the army have used their logistical expertise to help deliver the mass testing trials in Liverpool. If the trial is successful then no doubt it will be expanded across the country and we will be able to turn up at testing centres staffed by military personnel. Similarly, I would not be surprised to see military involvement in the delivery of the vaccine (although that might be because I’ve watched too many episodes of The Last Ship).
What caused the alarmism was a failure to look back at recent history and see that the military have consistently been used in such ways both in response to disasters at home and abroad. The full picture would have helped us to see what was really meant, what was really going on.
In the same way, I think a failure to properly see the bigger theological picture has led to questionable conclusions along the way. I’ve heard people who should know better attempting to identify the pandemic as a specific punishment from God and to pinpoint the reason for this. Yet, theologically we know that the plagues in the Bible considered punishment came with explicit divine revelation and were in the context of either discipline for God’s people as outlined in the Covenant (see the last few chapters of Deuteronomy) or a response to the assault of God’s enemies against God’s people. Plagues and pandemics more generally are simply part of living in a fallen world in the now and the not yet.
Another way in which we misunderstand specific things because we fail to see the bigger picture is in day to day church life and pastoral care. Often the breakdown in relationships comes because someone focuses on one action, one statement and interprets it badly. We live in a world where it is practically impossible to disagree with, challenge or correct someone because that must mean we hate them. Yet so often if I simply stop and look at the evidence of the bigger picture then we would read those conversations differently. We would be reminded of the constant love and care someone has shown and we would see the conversation in that light. I am not being disagreed with and challenged because the other person hates me but because they love me enough to disagree with me.
Can you think of other examples where seeing the bigger picture helps you to understand what is really happening?