These are crazy times.
With COVID-19 growing from a local outbreak to a regional epidemic to a global pandemic in a matter of a couple of months, our lives as we know them have been turned upside down.
During the last few weeks, many procedures have been implemented worldwide that some of us may never have thought we would have to adopt within our lifetimes.
Healthy? Practice physical distancing. Shelter at home. Avoid close human contact.
Ill? Self-quarantine before a governmental body does it for you.
These disruptive measures, though crucial to stem the spread of an uncommonly contagious virus, seem foreign to most of us. In times like these, our natural response is to cling to the ones we love; now, in a physical sense at least, we are being asked to do the opposite. Put distance between ourselves and the people we care about? Isolate? Avoid physical contact? These regulations, though important, strip away much of what makes us communal beings. They feel cold. Lonely. Unfamiliar. Empty. Novel.
Truth be told, though, this isolation is nothing new. Whether we are aware of it or not, we have been quarantining our entire lives.
We consistently shelter ourselves from those who are different. Those we disagree with. Those who take too much of our energy, our money, our time. Those we see as less worthy, less holy, less like us. Now, Facebook algorithms even take care of distancing for us, ensuring that we mainly encounter views and opinions that most closely resemble ours.
Consciously and unconsciously, we associate with those we see eye to eye with. Religiously. Politically. We even tend to surround ourselves with those who share our affinity for a particular sports team. It turns out that Yankees and Red Sox fans don’t hang out together too often.
So often, too, we the church, though in principle believing we are called to love and love unconditionally, seek to quarantine ourselves from the world, from anyone unrighteous, from anyone whose sinful habits and words might infect us.
We quarantine because it keeps us safe. Keeps our tidy little belief systems intact and unchallenged. Keeps us unblemished, untried, untempted.
Yet, this self-preserving, self-isolating approach could be the Enemy’s biggest temptation of all.
We serve a God who did, and does, the complete opposite. A God who created this world knowing full well the decisions we would make, the sickness of sin we would choose to become infected with. A God who did not self-isolate away from our planet, or tuck this fallen world away in an out-of-reach corner of the universe, but rather a God who entered the danger zone, born a helpless human who would grow up to become our disease.
This God, this Jesus, regularly did the unthinkable. He touched lepers while they were still unclean. Let a prostitute wash and wipe his feet with her hair. Hung out with tax collectors, drunkards, and sinners. Sinners much like you and me.
Though Jesus was a spotless lamb, he became a serpent lifted high (John 3:14). Though he knew no sin, he became sin for us. He drank our cup, taking upon himself the very thing he could not look upon, be around, be a part of. Instead of reaching for his mask and hand sanitizer to safely avoid our disease, he became it, so that he could cure it forever. The cure he offers is the only cure we will ever need, and our disease doesn’t stand a chance against it. John 1:5 puts it this way: "The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out."
The God who knows no quarantine does the same thing in our messy lives today that he did on a cross long ago: he draws close to us, as contaminated as we are. He doesn’t ask that we get tested for our sickness; the Great Physician knows our condition better than we know it ourselves. He doesn’t wait for us to cure ourselves, to rid our souls of every symptom of sin, but jumps right into the heart of our circumstances, our crimes, our calamities. He doesn’t demand that we isolate from him, but calls us to him, sick and sinful as we are. His hands-on approach is exactly what our lonely, locked-up hearts have been waiting for.
Jesus knows no illness he can’t cure. No heart he can’t heal. Nothing broken he can’t restore. He doesn’t merely offer hypothetical hope of a vaccine yet to be developed; rather, he is the cure. No amount of self-medication, of self-help, or of self-doctoring could ever offer the total heart transformation that Jesus does. He doesn’t just want to eradicate our disease, but wants to bring us back to health. Back to life. As his light casts out our darkness, as his wholeness pushes out our brokenness, we become like him. Pure. Healthy. Whole.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18: "Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him."
We are sick. We are going to die. The only cure is a cruel cross, and a Savior who did not, does not, will not, spare anything to bring us from death to life.
He will never quarantine us. He will never isolate himself. He will never hold our sickness against us, for our Judge and our Savior are one.
In these times of uncertainty, of physical distancing, and of isolation, God defies any separation our guilt or shame could ever try to put on him. He has broken down every wall between himself and us. He refuses to give us, his prodigal sons and daughters, six feet of separation or an elbow bump, but instead runs down the road to greet us with arms wide open, welcoming us home.
As long as this earthly pandemic continues to escalate, it’s important to follow the rules of shelter and separation set out by governments and health agencies. But, though the battle rages against this devastating, deadly disease, we can be still and know that when it comes to the sickness that is killing our souls, the fight has already been won. We serve a God who is not bridled by rules of sin or separation, by regulations of space, time, guilt, or shame.
“So, what do you think,” exclaims Paul in Romans 8:31-32, 39. "With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? Absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love."
This is the God who knows no quarantine.
This piece originally appeared in The Compass Magazine.
All Bible verses quoted are from The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson.