5 actual good things to emerge from the pandemicWritten by Subby Szterszky
What's inside this article
Everyone loves to hear good news, especially in times of disruption and uncertainty. And as the 24-hour news cycle has poured out its sobering updates on the COVID-19 pandemic, people have searched for – and found – positive stories to help offset the dreary mood.
American actor John Krasinski even created a YouTube channel called Some Good News – complete with handmade graphics by his young daughters – to share uplifting accounts from around the world delivered in a lighthearted tone. Inspired by his example, others have created their own copycat channels to promote good news stories across social media.
And so, in the spirit of Some Good News, here is a handful of positive developments – let’s call them Five Actual Good Things – to emerge alongside the COVID-19 pandemic. Thinking about such things is good for our hearts and our minds and even for our bodies as we huddle at home around our TVs and laptops.
More than that, these good things remind us of God’s providence and that he continues to care for his world and its people, even – or especially – in uncertain and disruptive times.
At a time when social distancing and self-isolation have become household terms, it may seem paradoxical to talk about relationships growing closer. And yet, that appears to be what has happened.
Thanks to the wonders of video chat technology, people are staying in regular contact with extended family members, friends and coworkers, checking in on them, seeing how they’re doing and whether they need anything.
At home, facing the challenges of being cooped up for long periods, families are finding creative (and low tech) ways to interact with each other over meals, board games, household chores and other activities.
And outside, they’re going for family walks, safely distanced from other families but talking and laughing among themselves in a way that’s become all too rare to see in recent times.
As image-bearers of the triune God, humans are wired for relationship. Perhaps the social limits imposed by the COVID-19 crisis have led people to reassess the value of relationships they may have taken for granted.
Rather than retreating to their corners to scroll through their news feeds or binge their favourite shows (not that there’s anything wrong with those things) they’re taking more opportunities to interact with the people in their lives. And that’s an Actual Good Thing.
Kindness and generosity
Stories of hoarding driven by panic and selfishness have filled the news cycle since the beginning of the pandemic. Images of empty shelves at supermarkets and of shopping carts stacked with mountains of toilet paper, pasta and canned goods have become iconic symbols of the moment.
And yet at the same time, there has been an undeniable sense of compassion and selflessness in the air. People have demonstrated not-so-random acts of kindness and generosity and have given themselves sacrificially to help others in danger or in need.
Health care workers, many of them volunteers, have laboured beyond the point of exhaustion in hazardous conditions to provide essential medical services and to care for those who are sick or vulnerable.
Supermarket clerks continue to serve the public, protecting themselves as best they can behind clear plastic shields, but typically with a friendly smile and energetic attitude.
Individuals are volunteering their time, money and talents to create masks and provide food and hand sanitizers for hospitals and others in need.
A priest in Italy died of COVID-19 after giving up his respirator to a younger patient.
On an episode of Some Good News, John Krasinski organized the stars of the Broadway hit Hamilton to perform a song online for a young girl who loved the show.
Happily, “We’re all in this together” has become the dominant slogan of the pandemic, rather than “Everyone for themselves.” The latter shows we’re fallen people in a fallen world. But the former demonstrates that God is still at work in the hearts of fallen people and redeeming that fallen world. And that’s an Actual Good Thing.
Venice is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, famous for its canals. However, the water in those canals had become muddy and murky over the years, thanks to all the boat traffic. But as the traffic subsided with the advent of the pandemic, the waters became clear once again for the first time in ages. Fish were visible and there were even reports about swans and dolphins showing up.
As it turned out, the swans and dolphins were fake news created by wishful thinking online. They spawned a flurry of satirical memes, showing dinosaurs roaming Times Square and a giant yellow rubber duck swimming up the Thames River in London, among other things.
Nevertheless, the canals of Venice were in fact clearer, mostly because the lack of boat traffic had allowed the silt in the waters to settle to the bottom.
More significantly on a global scale, satellite imaging has shown that air and water quality has improved, and pollution has decreased, especially in densely populated industrial regions of countries such as China and the United States.
None of this is to suggest for a moment that the massive cost in human suffering and human lives has somehow been “worth it” for nature to heal. The value of human life made in God’s image is beyond measure. But God also cares for the world he created. He speaks repeatedly in the Old Testament about the land enjoying its sabbaths. He calls his human representatives to be good stewards of the natural order.
Perhaps the effects of the pandemic have served as a reminder that caring for people and caring for the environment is not a zero-sum game. And that’s an Actual Good Thing.
Free online culture
During a time of crisis, it’s natural for people to focus on essentials and strip away much else. Popular cultural activities – sports, movies, concerts, dining out – recede into the background. The main daily concerns then revolve around staying healthy and making sure there’s food in the cupboard.
All of this is a reasonable response to something like COVID-19. In a culture steeped in entertainment options, it may even prove to be a healthy reality check.
There is a distinction, however, between surviving and living, a distinction that separates humans from all other creatures in God’s world. We yearn for expressions of creativity and aesthetic pleasure, and those yearnings were coded into us by our Maker.
The pandemic may have closed theatres, concert halls and other venues for cultural activity. But in response, cultural activity has made its way into homes via free online content. Symphony orchestras, theatre and opera companies, museums, art galleries, zoos and aquariums, and cultural heritage sites have opened their virtual doors, allowing guests to visit and enjoy their offerings from a laptop or smartphone.
The creation and enjoyment of culture is essential for humans, no less than food or shelter. It’s part of our design, what makes us uniquely human and reflects the image of God in us.
Not everyone will be a fan of museums and symphony concerts. But the corona crisis has brought about a unique opportunity to enjoy rich and diverse cultural experiences at home, for free, to the glory of our creative God. And that’s an Actual Good Thing.
Seeking after God
Natural disasters have posed a thorny problem for philosophers and theologians alike. What to make of hurricanes and tsunamis – and viral pandemics – with respect to God? Skeptics argue that they prove God does not exist, while religious people often try to justify God by claiming such disasters occur outside of his will.
But Scripture won’t allow either of those conclusions. It places no limits on either God’s goodness or on his sovereign power and will. As the Lord spoke through his prophet Isaiah, “I form light and create darkness; I make well-being and create calamity; I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:7).
And in the words of Tim Keller, “If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn’t stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have (at the same moment) a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can’t know.”
Of course, pondering such truths is easier in the abstract, when the calamity in question occurs halfway around the world. With something universal like the corona pandemic, it becomes more challenging.
For followers of Jesus, COVID-19 may have driven them to grapple with theological questions to which they hadn’t given much thought before. But beyond that, it has drawn them to lean on the Lord with fresh faith in the midst of uncertain times.
And for more than a few agnostics and atheists, the uncertainties surrounding COVID-19 have led them to ask questions about God, and even to seek answers from their believing friends and family members.
And all of that is an Actual Good Thing – the Best Thing – to emerge from the pandemic.
Conclusion: What comes after?
Barring the Lord’s return, the world will go on after COVID-19. The question remains, what will it be like after the pandemic is controlled and the virus suppressed, or even eradicated? Will things return to the way they were before, or will this mark a turning point in the history of our country and our world?
Regarding these Five Actual Good Things (and others besides): Will their effects go on after the crisis has passed? Will people continue to draw closer in authentic relationships? Will a spirit of kindness, compassion and generosity keep informing how we live? Will efforts be redoubled to maintain a cleaner, healthier environment? Will enriching cultural experiences stay available to wider audiences? And will people continue to pursue God and cling to him with renewed faith and fervour?
Or will it be like Christmas, when the spirit of the season is forgotten the day after the holidays are over? Only time and the providence of God will tell.
In the meantime, those who know the Lord have the comfort of resting and trusting in him, giving themselves in service to others, knowing that “for those who love God all things [even COVID-19] work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).
And as for the practice of seeking Actual Good Things amidst the dreary accounts of the news cycle: “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).
Sources and further reading
Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, Penguin Books, 2008.
Matt McGrath, “Coronavirus: Air pollution and CO2 fall rapidly as virus spreads,” BBC Science and Environment, March 19, 2020.
AJ Willingham, “All the virtual concerts, plays, museums and other culture you can enjoy from home,” CNN Style, March 27, 2020.
Subby Szterszky is the managing editor of Focus on Faith and Culture, an e-newsletter produced by Focus on the Family Canada.
© 2020 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.
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