Something strange and surreal is happening all around us. In the current surge, the pandemic has killed more people every day than the attack at Pearl Harbor or on 9/11. Yet, some people somehow still believe that the coronavirus does not exist. They believe that the figures we hear in the news are fabricated; that it is a conspiracy to take control of our lives and our liberties. Caught in the middle of this, many refuse to wear a mask and socially distance.
Images of gatherings and parties with hundreds of people without masks are not uncommon. Masks have become a polarizing political statement for some. What is happening to us? What causes so many to ignore even common sense? Does the Bible have anything to say about this?
A number of factors may contribute to an individual decision to ignore medical experts, and refuse to adopt simple behaviors that are proven to reduce the spread of the virus. Among them, recent studies have included a tendency toward risky behaviors, the way an individual perceives the risks associated with coronavirus infections, and a more general resistance to change. The topic is important, so we will look at each of these main reasons.
Some people who tend to engage in risky behaviors also tend to think they don’t need to use a mask or limit their social interactions to help contain the spread of the pandemic. They are the same people who may drive too fast or unsafely. They expose themselves to dangers, or make risky decisions regardless of the repercussions. The reason for taking risks is often a false sense of security. They embrace the idea that one can take a risk and overcome the odds. The perceived benefits of taking a chance, they believe, are well worth the potential consequences they are risking.
It’s Not Going to Happen to Me
Another reason behind some people’s defiance of recommendations and executive orders is a sense of invincibility or invulnerability. Bad news only happen to others, not us, they think. The virus will not affect me, and even if I get it, it will not be a big deal. I can handle it.
These are the people who boast about not wearing a mask. They may even tease or belittle others who do, regarding them as weak or fearful. In some cases, these individuals establish a group of peer pressure in which if you are “in” you don’t need to wear face coverings or socially distance.
You Can’t Tell Me What to Do!
A more insidious motive is the belief that we have the innate and inalienable right to do whatever we want. These people accept no restrictions whatsoever. When an instruction (or in some cases even a recommendation) is given, these people perceive it as a threat to their freedom and their rights. No one can tell them what to do and get away with it. Their response is quite often one of anger, leading them to react to the rule by publicly and openly refusing to comply. These people are also more likely to believe and adopt conspiracy theories in support to their claims and radical positions. In some cases, the whole issue turns into a battle: it is “us” vs. them.
I Never Had to Do Anything Like This Before…
Another reason for resisting the call of medical experts is perhaps the most common one. It is simply a resistance to change. No one likes change, especially when that change is uncomfortable and calls for a degree of personal sacrifice. People who resist change are more likely to adopt a required behavior if in some ways it is consistent with something they may have done or accepted in the past. In other words, they will adopt a new behavior if they don’t perceived it as a big change, but rather an evolution of something they are already used to.
A Common Problem
Of course, there are other reasons that could be listed. However, these examples are sufficient for us to see that there is a problem common to all of them. That is human nature, and more specifically the self-centeredness of human nature. Those who are willing to accept the risk do so in reference to themselves, based on what they regard as benefits. Those who hide in their denial are concerned about what may or may not happen to them. This, again, is a self-centered perspective. Those who rebel do so in regards to their own freedom and their own will. Meanwhile, though, they disregard the freedom of others. Even those who just don’t like change look at themselves, at what they are used to or prefer for themselves.
It’s Not Really About “Me”
For as long as we continue to look at the issue from a self-centered perspective, we will not see a real solution. There cannot be a true solution because the problem rests in the perspective itself. We are not created to be self-centered. That is the product of sin, and it does not lead to anything good. The wages of sin, Scripture reminds us, is death — and death is what we see around us indeed.
The issue is simple, but it is also profoundly spiritual. If I come up to you and while I am close to you I refuse to wear an adequate face covering, it is not at all about me, but it is about you. What I communicate with my behavior is that I don’t care about you and what happens to you at all. All I care about, if I behave that way, is myself. This is not just socially rude, it is also spiritually wrong and opposite to the spirit of Christianity.
Understanding the Dynamics of an Infection
We don’t need to engage in an in-depth medical discussion here. The facts are simple enough for all of us to understand. The coronavirus is an airborne pathogen. This means that it spreads in the air, and it infects people when they inhale it. Like most respiratory infections, the main point of entry into the human body is the nose. Once the virus enters our airways, it multiplies very rapidly in the moist tissue lining the nose and the sinuses. From the nose, then the virus spreads to the mouth, the lungs and the stomach.
Long before experiencing any symptoms, an infected person can spread the virus that is multiplying in the nose. This happens by simply exhaling air in normal breathing. The spread reaches even further when talking, sneezing, or coughing. Anyone who is near the infected person and who breathes in the same air can easily become infected as well. The point here is that most masks and face coverings are not intended to protect the people wearing them. They are to protect those who are close to them who could be breathing the same air.
So, while they think they are tough and can handle the virus (which in itself is a fallacy) and that’s why they don’t need to wear a mask, they obviously are missing a very simple point: it’s not about them! It is about the people they infect and the deadly damage they may be inflicting on others. It’s not a matter about the rights of individuals to refuse to wear a mask. It’s a matter about the rights of those who are around them: the right to not become infected by them, the right to stay healthy, and to be alive!
What does the Bible Have to Say About It?
Of course, the Bible does not address the coronavirus directly. Rather, it gives us important principles that apply to our behavior in the presence of a deadly virus. Let’s not forget, for example, that long before any physician even had a chance to understand why, God is the One who instituted the requirement to quarantine.1
Scripture teaches us that we are responsible for our actions, especially when our negligence affects or causes damage to others. Several Old Testament provisions illustrate this. One of them is Deuteronomy 22:8, in which it is clearly the responsibility of the person who builds a house to ensure that there is no danger for others. Similarly, the provision of Exodus 21:33 holds a person who “opens a pit, or digs a pit” responsible for the potential danger that pit represents if not covered. These are clear principles that point to the civic responsibility of our actions, including our refusal to protect others by wearing face coverings.
A case that illustrates the point is that of a family that was severely affected by the virus. This happened when one of them was briefly exposed to an individual who didn’t know that she was infected. All family members but one became infected as well, and two of them died from the virus. A few breaths is all it took for this family to suffer so much. But it could have been avoided if that individual with whom they had come in contact had used a face covering as recommended.
Do Nothing From Selfishness
Another important biblical principle is in a very clear instruction from the New Testament:
Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves.2
Can we see how clear this is? Nothing should be done from selfishness, and the refusal to listen to medical authorities is selfish in nature. Even more, it tells us to regard others as more important than ourselves. Yes, others! That’s exactly why we wear masks: to protect others. All of this is in harmony with Jesus’ great commandment,
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.3
The point here is as clear as it could be. Jesus Christ did not love Himself first, but loved us sacrificially. His love, which is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit,4 and which is the motivating force of Christianity, moves us to sacrifice ourselves for the benefit of our brothers and sisters. Wearing a mask or an adequate face covering to protect others is really not that much of a sacrifice. That is especially true when compared with what the Lord Himself has done for us.
To Mask or Not to Mask?
Finally, Scripture reminds us that this love that we have just described, this concern for others that we are called to manifest from the heart,
… does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.5
I hope we have noticed that it does not state that it does no wrong to ourselves, but to others. It is that concern for the well-being of our neighbors that should motivate us in our decisions.
So, should I wear a face covering as recommended during this pandemic? Well, that depends on whether I want to act like a Christian or not. At the core, this is not a political matter, not even a social issue. It is a spiritual attitude that reflects the state of our heart. It manifests our relationship with the One who sacrificed Himself and gave it all for us.