The coronovirus has created two competing atmospheres, one of fear and another of community spirit. My friend Jules has a son and daughter in law who lives with him and she has the virus. They are all in lockdown mode. It is the neighbour who is delivering their weekly groceries. When Jesus said to "love your neighbour" Jules did not expect it to work the other way round. He assumed that he would be doing the good neighbour bit, but in this situation he is the recipient of God's mercy through the acts of a non-christian neighbour. What does this tell us? It proves a number of things.
First, the image of God is in every person. We (the whole of humanity) are made in God's image. That is clear from Genesis 1:27.
"So God created mankind (humanity) in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them."
That means every person is worthy of dignity and respect. It also means that each person is a body, a soul and a spirit. We are more than we seem and God is at work in unusual places. The problem of distance from God is an identity issue, we just don't realise how special we are, we just don't realise how much potential we have. That's why Jesus came in human form, to show us how close to God we are (and how far away at times). Being human means being a whole person, not just as a spiritual experience but as a body and soul that experience emotions, regrets and disappointments. Part of the work of God in the world, and this is part of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, is to reveal our loss of identity and how Jesus is a representative, a first fruit of that restored humanity. Becoming like Jesus is a form of self realisation that can only happen when we acknowledge the power of forgiveness and salvation (the greek word for salvation also means wholeness). This is a revelation and explains why it takes us so long to get it. We need spaces to think, spaces to see, other examples of people who have travelled on this journey.
The coronavirus has imposed a period of isolation and in some cases solitude. I wonder if this period of self, self isolation and self reflection might reveal a number of things like the work of God in ourself and our neighbour. John O'Donohue, the Irish poet said:
"When you cease to fear your solitude, a new creativity awakens in you. Your forgotten or neglected wealth begins to reveal itself. You come home to yourself and learn to rest within. Thoughts are our inner senses. Infused with silence and solitude, they bring out the mystery of inner landscape."
–Anam Cara, 1997, p. 17
I wonder if we will see our neighbours in a new light. I wonder if we have been too busy trying to show God to our neighbour when God is actually already at work and our neighbour might actually show God to us?
John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Movement referred to this act of God in others as prevenient grace. The word prevenient means "anticipating", "coming before", or "preceding." In other words instead of trying to get people right with God we look for where God is already at work. Rather than labelling someone as outside of God's grace we see God at work in everyone made in his image, we see the spiritual life in a person as a seed waiting to be nurtured and grow.
The second thing this proves is that truth and generosity and kindness are found outside the church. In fact God is probably more active in strange and unusual people and places than any of us realise. This is so obvious it seems silly to say it but there is a theological bent that denies goodness in those who don't know God in a relational way (they might even deny his existence). Depending on your theology you might think that everyone outside of God's salvation is no good and deeply resistant to truth. Yet Jesus taught his disciples to look for people of peace. That is, people who were already open to the kingdom of God and showed signs of being aligned to what God is doing (before they heard the good news). I ask people "when did the first disciples, the apostles, get saved?" Was it when Jesus called them, was it while they walked with him for three years, was it the Day of Pentecost? We don't really know, we just know that God was at work from the start and is faithful to complete what he started. It is God's business, our job is to be good news people. I have heard it said that you will find truth and grace and beauty outside of church and that is because the kingdom of God is so much bigger than church. We need a kingdom lens. We need to see where God is at work in our neighbour. John Wimber, founder of the Vineyard Movement of churches once said "find out what God is doing and join in." He had a great way of simplifying profound truth.