Seeking Wisdom in Crisis, and Always
Wisdom is the thoughtful application of knowledge to a specific context, seeking the best possible outcome for all involved. When a crisis hits, we need to be wise.
The world is in crisis mode, and (to a large degree, at least) rightly so. Yes, there is panic and people are acting in panicky ways. That's to be expected, as much as is it frustrating and sometimes can seem silly or worse. When people are in crisis mode, panic is going to happen. We all want to think we're rational beings, but we're only rational to a certain degree.
A more helpful thing than to seek over against "complete rationality" (because that's not possible) is wisdom. I would define wisdom as "the thoughtful application of knowledge to a specific context, seeking the best possible outcome for all involved". Even in crisis, we can seek to be thoughtful about our responses, taking into account the knowledge that we have (collectively; it's important to listen to experts when we're not), the context we are in, and the people we're seeking to serve.
That last point is incredibly important, especially in the specific health crisis we're in: who are we seeking to serve? The toilet paper craze, while beyond tired at this point, is a great illustration of this. Is it necessary to have supplies on hand? Yes. Is it ok to go get some supplies beyond a normal week's worth? Yes. But who are we really serving when we have entire Costco-size shopping carts full of toilet paper? Anyone but ourselves? Most likely not.
The same is true with the new term social distancing. If I get (or have) COVID-19, it's highly likely that I'll go through it and come out physically healthy in the end. And if that were the only factor I had to consider, then that's one thing. But I work—in some cases quite closely—with vulnerable populations. And so, I need heaps of wisdom; I need to be wise in how I conduct myself, so that the best possible outcome for all involved (not just me)—not infecting anyone who's vulnerable—is the actual goal. Though it seems counter-intuitive, social distancing is actually seeking to serve others.
As a pastor, and as a Christian, that gets pretty tricky. Jesus is the Word made flesh (John 1:1-3, John 1:14). He is God incarnate, which literally means "in the flesh". And as Christians and pastors, we seek to live incarnationally. That is, social distancing is the exact opposite of the goal in our regular Christian lives. We want to be together for worship, for meals, for coffee, for conversation, for comfort and consolation, and so much more. So I need wisdom, where the context of something is incredibly important. It can actually be an act of love (self-sacrificial action born out of goodwill towards others) to physically distance myself from someone, but only in a context where it's necessary, like it is in many cases right now.
With statements coming out from every business and organization about either cancelling events or putting precautions in order, Christian churches are grappling with them too. One of the biggest decisions is whether or not to still invite people to gather for Christian worship (what many of us call "divine service"—yet another term to define at some point). Being together is critically important for us. But there may be a time when love for others—and especially for vulnerable populations—demands that we avoid being together in the same way, in a specific context, and for specific reasons.
Our congregation will be making some decisions in the next couple of days about some of these things. If you're a pastor, and especially one in my circles, you've no doubt heard by now some reference to Martin Luther's reflections during the black plague in the 1500s. Yes, it's centuries old, but it carries a lot of wisdom. And men who are servant leaders to our church body in Canada and our sister church body in USAmerica have offered some reflections which I also think are wise. Even if you're not connected to our church bodies, you might be interested in what they write and say.
Statement from Pastor Timothy Teuscher, President of Lutheran Church–Canada
Statement from Pastor Matthew Harrison, President of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod
The simple prayer that I share with many people right now is, "May God give us wisdom". I pray that you can say amen to that.
Blessed is the one who finds wisdom, and the one who gets understanding, for the gain from her is better than gain from silver and her profit better than gold. She is more precious than jewels, and nothing you desire can compare with her. —Proverbs 3:13-15
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. —Proverbs 9:10
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. —Ephesians 5:15-17
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. —James 3:13