It was much easier when COVID rules were in place. We knew that we were to
- Keep a two-metre distance from others
- Wear face masks in doors
- Stay home for at least 10 days after testing positive and then only begin mixing again when we had tested negative on two consecutive days.
At various times there were other strict rules to help us. There were lockdowns when we were all to stay at home, there were limits on the numbers allowed together at one time (remember the rule of six) and there were bans on parties and socialising. The rules seemed arbitrary to many but at least we knew where we stood (unless we lived or worked in Downing Street).
Now the rules are gone in England, however, COVID hasn’t and so we still have guidance and advice from the NHS. Current guidance advises that if you either are suffering from symptoms of a respiratory illness similar to COVID (high temperature, persistent cough, breathing difficulties) or you do get access to a swab test and test positive then you should stay home for 5 days, after that you should use your own judgement in terms of whether you feel well enough to mix with others and also who you should mix with. The guidance encourages you to continue not to see those who may be particularly vulnerable to infection until at least 10 days.
The onus is on you to make responsible decisions. This is similar to what happened when the original requirement to mask was removed back in July 2021. People were encouraged to make decisions based on whether or not a building, bus or train carriage was crowded and/or poorly ventilated.
What I’ve noticed is that a lot of people haven’t been happy with having that responsibility placed back on them. If we are honest, a lot of us prefer the definite boundaries of regulation. It is fascinating that whilst a lot of people have hated and bridled against the regulations and as soon as they were lifted have been quick to throw themselves back into “normal life” again, the lifting of regulations has created a lot of fear for others. Some people have expressed the same, if not greater anxiety now than as they did when the pandemic was raging at its peak.
Indeed, it seems to me that we don’t seem to do well with the idea of nuance and graded risk. It is all or nothing for us. We seem to find ourselves either in the camp which says COVID has gone and we must be free to do as we please or else we commit to the position that until no-one is getting ill at all and there are no hospital admissions or deaths that we must continue to maintain our distance and wear masks.
Yet, the point is that normal life isn’t like that. Life before COVID was filled with risks and each day we had to assess them. Should I take the day off work because I’m under the weather or should I plough on? Can I cross this road here despite the absence of a Traffic light-controlled crossing? Should I take out an insurance package when buying this new laptop.
Each time we had to assess the risk because just because all actions carry some risk, not all risks are equal. That’s why, as I’ve mentioned before, in professional risk management, you don’t just identify the risk, you assess it. In my systems implementation days, we would score a risk based on whether or not it was likely to happen (probability) and whether the consequences in terms of time, money and quality would be serious (cost/impact). We only worried about the risks that scored highly.
And actually, we were simply making overt there what God has designed our brains to do intuitively. All the time, you are assessing risks in terms of how likely the thing you are concerned about is to happen and what the results will be. It’s how we survive in life. It’s what helps us to keep going when the news becomes gloomy. We look at what is happening in Ukraine and we make decisions for life. We know that nuclear war would be catastrophic but as well as knowing that if it happened, there is nothing we could do to stop it, we also know that although increased, the likelihood of it coming to that remains low. At the same time, we know that the impact on the cost of fuel and grain is going to make things financially difficult. We know that things will be tight -the probability and impact for that are high. So most people are making plans based around that, looking at where they can reduce expenditure, checking their savings, seeking a promotion in order to get a pay increase etc. We respond accordingly.
All of this is important because it’s about wisdom and wisdom is a wonderful gift that God has given us for life. A lot of what the Bible teaches concerning godliness revolves around wisdom and so we have several books of the Bible, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs that teach us how to live wisely. A lot of the instruction we read in the New Testament is rooted in the same principles.
This gives us an alternative to the two extremes we’ve talked about. In Christian terms we label them as “legalism” and “licence.” These reflect the two opposite poles we’ve described. Licence means that we decide that it doesn’t matter what we do. We might as well just go out and enjoy ourselves however we please. Legalism looks for strict rules to be imposed by the church and its leaders so we know exactly what we must do. What counts as observing a sabbath, which types of musical instruments can be played in church, which forms of garment count as modest (not leggings apparently) and how much food counts as a meal before you must say grace (I assume that as with COVID it depends on the presence of a side salad). Legalism also tells you how much you should tithe, how long you should spend reading your Bible and which TV programmes (if any) are permitted.
If you’ve grown up in or grown used to such a church culture then finding yourself in a church culture where such detailed rules and guidelines are not in place may at first seem terrifying. Yet, in a grace driven church culture you’ll find that legalism isn’t used. Instead of having your life micromanaged you’ll learn to apply God’s Word to your situation and to think carefully about how the Gospel enables you to face it. You’ll assess the risks.
- Will my actions be honouring to God?
- Is this a help or a hindrance to others?
- Will this encourage me to be holy and to grow in Christ?
And that will help you to make decisions. You’ll do so knowing that there will be consequences to your decisions and that’s why you have to make wise decisions. But you’ll also do so knowing that ultimately, the decisions you make are not going to affect your eternal destiny and your relationship to Christ.