This crisis will change us. The question is how?
In his book, Strong and Weak, Andy Crouch suggests that to truly flourish as human beings made in God’s image requires both authority – taking meaningful action – and vulnerability – exposure to meaningful risk.
Without authority, we are stuck as victims. Without vulnerability we exploit others.
So, we have a paradox: in order to live the life that is truly life – in order to flourish – we have to follow Jesus’ example of holding together vulnerability and authority. We have to be both strong and weak.
I think this idea has much to say to us right now.
For many people across the globe, this pandemic is unavoidably terrifying. We mustn’t belittle that. But I wonder if the greater danger for those of us who are relatively young, privileged and healthy is not that we get seriously ill, but it’s that we opt out of authority and vulnerability. For many of us, the danger is that we move away from flourishing. That we become less like Jesus.
Crouch calls this withdrawing. When we withdraw, we abdicate authority and avoid meaningful action, and we insulate ourselves from the risk of vulnerability.
For me, this is the greatest temptation right now. Like Tim has highlighted in his blogs on stopping and grieving, I want to avoid the pain of engaging with reality, of grieving and of taking meaningful action to move towards suffering and brokenness. Cultural narcotics like Netflix, gaming and social media have never felt so inviting. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with those things, but I know that my inclination right now is to use them as a means of opting out of authority and vulnerability – of escaping reality.
And I know that to run away from reality, to numb my grief, to distract myself with trivialities and to withdraw into a cocoon of self-preservation, is not the way of Jesus. It is not life to the full. And if the world ever needed the Church to be a community of disciples living full, flourishing lives – joyful, non-anxious, steadfast, testifying to our God of cross and resurrection – it needs it now.
We do not flourish alone, but in community, by journeying with others towards authority and vulnerability. That journey requires us to embrace suffering – to follow Jesus into places of brokenness and pain – in the world and in ourselves.
There will be no shortage of advice on how we can love our neighbours well over the coming weeks. Commit to action that will have the greatest impact – where you can best move with others towards flourishing.
In chaotic times there is all the more need for order in our lives. So, place limits on escapism and screen time and get accountable. See this as an opportunity to deepen daily and weekly rhythms like sabbath, silence and solitude, bible reading, fasting, study and learning.
These rhythms are not about joyless legalism, they are the life-giving fuel that will sustain us as we embrace suffering and move toward flourishing in a lifelong pursuit of Jesus and justice.
This crisis will change us. The question is how? How will we be changed by this? Who will we become?
Are we going to allow our world, our imagination, our love to shrink into a cosy set of anaesthetising distractions?
Or are we going to make space for God, show up to reality, embrace suffering, contend in prayer, fight for community, and surrender our power and privilege for the sake of others?
Are we going to allow the Holy Spirit to expand our imaginations, to deepen our spiritual and emotional maturity, to grow us up through adversity into women and men of resilience and integrity and character?
When this crisis ends, will we be the leaders who can rebuild a more just world? Leaders who are more concerned about others’ flourishing than their own? Leaders willing to bear unseen vulnerability on behalf of their community? Leaders who have embraced suffering, confronted their false selves, and disarmed the power that the idols of control and ego hold over us?
It won’t happen by accident. The cultural tide is against us and we have to choose to become these leaders, day after day, in public and when no one is looking.
This crisis will change us. We get to choose how.