I’ve been accused of “both-sideism” in criticizing both state governors who act like petty tyrants and also protestors who gather to block traffic to “liberate” states locked down for fear of coronavirus. I also criticize the president for his tacit support of this “liberate” movement even while his own White House Coronavirus Task Force issues cautious and common sense guidelines for opening the country again.
I’m okay with the criticism, and in fact I agree with it, because “both-sideism” is really just a matter of perspective. Our situation with COVID-19 is awful not because of some political decisions, it’s awful because the virus that was unleashed upon the world is awful. Sure, we can blame politicians, here and in China, for our burden, but we can’t really appreciate the terrible toll it takes when gazing through political lenses.
People are suffering. Those who have lost their jobs are not seeing the bounty of government rescue packages. Even in states like Georgia, where nearly a million unemployment claims are being processed (hundreds of times the normal rate) by competent officials working 16-hour days, many people haven’t seen their first check yet. In places like New York, where antiquated computer systems and overloaded phone lines make it nearly impossible for those seeking benefits to begin the process, the hopelessness is palpable.
But don’t think for a minute that the government saying “here, it’s open” will lead every employer to rehire every furloughed or laid off position. First, many small businesses lack the finances to pay their rent, or buy supplies, even if they could open. They were living month to month, and without a guarantee that people will show up, they can’t open. And people won’t show up if they think there’s a danger of getting COVID-19.
Add to that the burden of employers having to provide personal protective equipment, check every employee’s temperature for every shift, and implementing social distancing…even a small cafe will find it difficult to make rent, never mind paying servers a wage. The Paycheck Protection Program is out of money, and most businesses that qualified haven’t closed their loans yet. Most businesses that applied are in limbo, without a funding confirmation from the SBA, which means no loan.
Many business owners don’t know how to apply. It’s supposed to be simple, but let me assure you, it’s not. (As an aside, I prepared the PPP application for the small business where I work. I have personal experience here.)
On the other “side,” we have families suffering with their loved ones in ICU, unable to visit them. We have other families suffering because a loved one is showing symptoms of COVID-19 but can’t get tested. And everyone in the house is likely to get infected. We have people dying alone, without friends, family, or even the touch of a human hand, only the soft hiss of a machine pumping oxygen into their starved lungs.
Gathering in large groups without masks, social distancing, and safe medical practice with an easily spread virus potentially in their midst, from someone who doesn’t even know they have it, is incandescently reckless. It represents a failure of compassion, and a failure of empathy for those who these people endanger.
But those government officials who would keep people from fishing by themselves, or stay at a home needing a few rooms painted or carpeted, and not allowing them to buy paint or carpet, are also terribly misguided and wrong. There is no danger in buying paint as a risky activity. There is no danger in fishing, or running on the beach alone or with your partner, as a risky activity. There is no danger in hiking on a trail, maintaining a six foot distance from others.
Those government officials who would have us sit in our homes and do nothing but stream movies don’t realize that some of “us” don’t have the money to pay the electric bill, or the streaming bill, or to buy food. Government programs only work at the speed of bureaucracy, which is to say, slowly.
The only way to look at this situation where Bad Option A and Bad Option B are the primary choices is to look with eyes of compassion, not through the lens of politics. In other words: “both-sideism” is the correct vision.
Psalm 2 is instructive here, so I’ll quote the whole thing.
Why do the nations rage,
And the people plot a vain thing?
2 The kings of the earth set themselves,
And the rulers take counsel together,
Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying,
3 “Let us break Their bonds in pieces
And cast away Their cords from us.”
4 He who sits in the heavens shall laugh;
The Lord shall hold them in derision.
5 Then He shall speak to them in His wrath,
And distress them in His deep displeasure:
6 “Yet I have set My King
On My holy hill of Zion.”
7 “I will declare the decree:
The Lord has said to Me,
‘You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
8 Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron;
You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ ”
10 Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
12 Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him.
God is sovereign. The coronavirus is not His doing, but this earth is beset by sin, evil, and people who act in their own interest without God’s wisdom or presence in their lives. Like the days when bubonic plague ravaged Europe, or smallpox wiped out entire civilizations such as the Aztecs, none of this is in our power to handle.
We make our plans and plot our politics, but the Lord laughs and holds us in derision for our lack of compassion.
Take today, and instead of plotting to block traffic to “liberate” a state, think about taking a day to pray for your neighbors. Take a day to ask how you can help supply the doctors and nurses fighting this virus at your local hospital, or in New York City. Take a day to ask how you can bless a small business owner struggling to make it to see another payday. Take a day to ask how you can help give some hope to those who are laid off without a penny in the bank to buy groceries.
Take a day to stop judging others “on the other side.” In this war on the virus, all our sides are hurting, and all our sides are really the same side. We are on the side of humanity. Let’s look at it from both sides, and through the compassionate eyes of a loving, ruling God.
If there’s any lesson to be gained here, it’s in Micah 6:8
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
Instead of looking at what the “other side” has done wrong, let’s look at what God has done for all of us. We will get through this, but both sides will suffer. Justice, mercy, and humility will enable us to see both sides.