God created us with a need to be together. None of us can survive alone. Our lives are connected and intertwined. We depend on each other for food and medicine; for physical health, mental wellness, and spiritual growth. Togetherness is fundamental to life, but getting close to people is risky.
Hospitals are sending doctors and nurses home in the midst of a pandemic. Some floors of the hospital have become ghost towns. It’s not because people don’t need the hospital. They do. It’s because people are afraid of the hospital. They would rather suffer with heart symptoms at home than risk the emergency room. We fear the very people who can save our lives.
We need each other, but it’s dangerous to be together. COVID-19 illustrates these facts, but this situation is nothing new. It’s been this way since the beginning.
Look at Genesis. God created Adam and Eve to help each other. God crafted Eve out of Adam’s rib to be Adam’s ezer. Ezer is a Hebrew word, translated “helper” or “companion.” Contrary to popular belief (at least among men), the word does not mean “maid” or “plaything”. In fact, the word ezer is sometimes used of God. God is nobody’s maid or plaything. The notes for the New English Translation define ezer as “one who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves.” So, Eve was created by God to do for Adam what he could not do for himself. Adam was also to be Eve’s companion. The two were designed by God to work together as a team. Whatever Adam lacked; Eve was to provide. Whatever Eve lacked; Adam was to provide. Their relationship is a model not only for marriage, but for all human interaction.
It was a great plan, until they teamed up to rebel against God and their relationship became toxic. They suffered the consequences of their sin. They faced a curse. The Lord said to Eve, “Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 NIV) There was a struggle between the man and the woman. They should have worked as a team, but sin created dissension. Eve desired Adam. Adam controlled Eve. Jealousy and hatred led to murder among Adam and Eve’s sons. God’s design for human interdependence was shattered.
The virus of sin infected Adam and Eve and still infects us today. They hid from God and covered their nakedness from each other. We also hide from God and wear masks to cover our vulnerability. Some masks are visible, like the bandannas covering our faces at the grocery store. Some masks are unseen, like the defense mechanisms covering our emotional vulnerabilities. We need each other but choose to remain six feet apart.
While Jesus encourages us to love one another, Jeremiah warns us, “Beware of your friends; do not trust anyone in your clan. For every one of them is a deceiver, and every friend a slanderer.” (Jeremiah 9:4 NIV) Jesus was deceived by a friend. His love earned Him a cross. There is delight and danger in human relationships.
I don’t know about you, but I miss handshakes and hugs at the doorway of the church. Then again, I’m suddenly aware of the risk of physical interaction. The latest advice from church consultants warns against things like passing offering plates and communion plates when starting regular church services back up. They advise against choirs singing too close to each other, not sharing microphones, and deep cleaning everything after every public service. I guess I never knew how risky it was for people to come together for worship.
This pandemic illustrates physically what has always been true about relationships emotionally and spiritually. Being together is hazardous. But God created us to be together, and Jesus died on the cross to bring us back together. When the time seems right, and we open the doors to the church building once again, we will be taking a risk. Whenever we get close to other people, we take a risk. When you open your life to relationships with others, you expose yourself to potential pain. But when you slam the shutters, you risk something even worse. Loneliness. In the end, the rewards of fellowship far outweigh the risks.