In the “new normal” brought on by the coronavirus, we all know the rule: Keep six feet apart! Contagion spreads from person to person as well as from surface to surface. On our hurriedly-rescheduled flight back from England, it obviously wasn’t possible to keep six feet apart from fellow passengers. And despite assurances that the filtration system would prevent germs from being recycled throughout the cabin, one could only hope that no one on board was infected.
And then came Immigration at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. In the long lines winding Disney-World style to the Immigration Officer, and then the newly-instituted health-check line, passengers were crowded body to body. Consider the irony of what could have occurred while waiting in the crowded health-check line! The good news is that Ruth and I were able to bypass the Immigration lines, having Global Entry as our new best friend. And when the Immigration Officer wearing his medical mask was satisfied that we looked healthy and had only visited Great Britain, praise God we were exempted from the health-check line!
During the nine-hour flight across the Pond, I found myself focusing on surfaces, large and small. On boarding the plane at Heathrow, we immediately began wiping down our seats, armrests, headrests, seat-belt fasteners, and tray tables. Nothing was left to chance, unless maybe it was the on-board toilets. Already rife with potential contamination, airplane toilets were not a place of relief, but concern. I kept looking at the tiny buttons that operated the water faucets. Any coronavirus lurking there? And who might have touched the paper towels next to the ones I was pulling out? What about the door handle? Had other passengers pressed it without washing their hands for twenty seconds? In such a surreal crisis, paranoia runs rampant.
I can’t help making a connection between the “new normal” of “social distancing” and what might be called “spiritual distancing.” While sin isn’t exactly a virus you can catch through the air, or through inherited genetics, it is not impervious to viral spread. Sin has a nasty way of lurking on “surfaces” we regularly touch and see, typically with little thought of how we are being contaminated. Merely think of television, movies, books, computer games, dress fashion, and a seductive material world. Self-isolation from sin requires more than just being “in the world but not of the world,” a call to live differently from the way the world lives. It actually requires keeping our distance! As Paul puts it, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you” (2 Co 6:17). Because of what we “touch,” sometimes even without recognizing it, spiritual contamination requires more than the precautionary 20-second rule. “Wash your hands, you sinners,” says James, “and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (4:8).
If you are reading this while confined to base and feeling alone, there is biblical precedent for self-isolation in a spiritual sense. Says Jeremiah, “I never sat with the band of revelers, and I did not celebrate with them. Because Your hand was on me, I sat alone, for You have filled me with indignation” (15:17). Maintaining purity can be a lonely road! But well worth the price, as John reminds us in his Revelation (18:4): “Then I heard another voice from heaven say: ‘Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins or contract any of her plagues.’”
Perhaps, by God’s grace, this crisis might reshape our spiritual habits to keep us spiritually safe.