From genocide and war to domestic violence and ongoing crime rates, the worst of humanity is clear to see. The reaction of many to the spread of coronavirus backs this up. But intermixed with the stockpiling of resources, the displays of racism and the general fearmongering, there has been an overwhelming mass of very different stories. You may have noticed popping up on your social media or on the nightly news people showing unexpected love to their neighbours.
Goodness is on the surge. There’s the crowdfunding page to fund coffee carts in front of hospitals so that health workers can get their caffeine fix. There’s the rise of #ViralKindness cards which offer to provide essential items to the elderly, or the individual efforts of some like Di Kilsby who are reaching out to their neighbourhood. If I haven’t convinced you yet, then maybe John Krasinski can.
So what is it that sparks us to display kindness in a time of crisis?
Reason 1: We reflect the good of the God who made us
In the beginning, God created everything. His goodness oozed over all he created, especially humans who were made in his image (Genesis 1:26-27). To be made in God’s image means humanity reflects His goodness. Consider Adam’s role in the garden. As God’s gardener, Adam toiled to help creation flourish. He was assigned as sovereign to maintain its order so that good would flow to all of God’s creatures.
Adam’s origin story is ours. We were made in the same image and, just as Adam’s work was rewarding for what it achieved, we also feel that same sense of pride in our efforts towards others. Sometimes people’s underlying motives can tarnish their intended good deed. Yet this doesn’t counteract the fact that people do good so that others may flourish. Christian or non-Christian, in some sense we all reflect the good God who made us.
Reason 2: The greater scale means greater empathy
The impact of COVID-19 is global. This means everyone has a story about how the crisis is affecting them. As the virus keeps spreading so do the social repercussions. Unemployment, anxiety, loneliness, death – these are all very present realities for many. What this allows for is greater empathy.
I was always taken by Brene Brown’s explanation of empathy. She describes the exercise of being empathetic as lowering yourself into someone else’s pit. For this to occur it requires humility. But this doesn’t come naturally. Instead, we prefer to see life from our own perspective, rather than placing ourselves in the shoes of another.
In the age of corona, this lowering of ourselves becomes easier because we are all feeling its effects. When we relate to someone on their level, we’re more willing to help them.
So why aren’t we kind all the time?
If I were to finish here, then I suspect that you’d find this to be a little unsatisfying. We don’t need to look far to see that something about humanity is wrong. Why is there such great inconsistency with our actions? How come we can’t do good always?
Often, we have a multitude of reasons for our bad behaviour – we were caught up in the wrong crowd, we were tired, it wasn’t a good time. These are the excuses we like to peddle. The problem is that we never take seriously our own responsibility.
Humanity’s greatest failure was Adam not living up to his responsibility. As a result, the order that God established was compromised. When Adam and his wife were manipulated by one of God’s creatures (Genesis 3:1-7), the order of rule set up at the beginning was turned on its head. The world we live in now is the product of Adam’s failure and we all continue to contribute to this failure.
We’ve neglected to live up to our image bearing status as God’s representatives. As a result, we are in an unpleasant position which means God is rightfully angry and will judge us for what we have done. In Genesis 3 Adam is kicked out of the garden. He stands outside of God’s presence and this is where we stand too.
The perfect image bearer
Yet there is one who lived that can stand in God’s presence. He is the greater Adam, Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul even goes as far as to describe him as “the image of the invisible God” who is supreme over all creation (Col 1:15-18). When the world saw him, they marvelled at what he did and what he said. He was able to still storms, cast-out demons, feed thousands, heal the sick and bring the dead to life. He continually lowered himself into the pit of others and, in empathy, acted to remedy their situation.
So why did Jesus come? Was it just to show that we can never compare with him? There is no doubt that the world needs kindness now more than ever before. It’s been beautiful to see people doing what they can to help others. The danger is that in our longing to do good and believe in the kindness of humanity we end up clouding our sight of Jesus.
In the finale of his life, Jesus lowered himself into another pit for the sake of humanity. He stepped into our place to take the judgment of death we deserved for our failings. This was his mission. We need help because our goodness is not good enough. In Jesus, we have God’s goodness fully on display. His life can make up for our shortfall.
When someone accepts this gift the motivation to do good increases. The good that has been done to them through Jesus will lead them to reflect God’s goodness back to him in gratitude. So, the need to do good is magnified and becomes the purpose for a Christian’s life.