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"Covid Amnesty" -- What is the Biblical Response?
With lots of footnotes
Late last month a columnist for The Atlantic named Emily Oster published an article titled Let’s Declare a Pandemic Amnesty. I meant to write a response to it back then, but life got busy — as it does — and here we are now.
The article itself was pretty short and a quick read. When it dropped it was widely discussed with two primary camps developing. On the one hand were the people who tended to have agreed with the lockdowns, mask mandates, vaccine requirements and the like. These folks tended to be more left-leaning politically but not entirely. On the other were people who, again, tended to be right-leaning. These people tended to oppose those same thing, so you can imagine the quality of discourse surrounding the idea of just forgetting about the last nearly three years and just moving on. So rather than leaning into the typical political arguments, I thought it was important as Christians to consider the question of a “pandemic amnesty” from a biblical perspective.
Also, I would encourage you to not make assumptions based on the reasoning being used throughout this article and read all the way to the end.
The bible is pretty clear on how we are to respond to conflicts we have with other believers.
1 Corinthians 1:10
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.
2 Timothy 2:23-26
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
But what about the conflicts with non-believers? Well I hold the view that the outline Jesus gave us in Matthew 18:15-17 still holds, granted the authority of the church would hold little weight to a non-believer and I might say to potentially find another authority in that instance after trying to resolve it civilly first. With that said, as a general rule I would say to go with Paul’s statement in Romans.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Abuse and Forgiveness
As believers we are called to love and to forgive just as Jesus did, but we should also understand that part of full and complete forgiveness is apology and repentance. When we sin there are consequences. We must confess our sin to God and potentially to others if necessary and then He is faithful to forgive us. (1 John 1:9).
The problem most people have with the idea of “declaring a pandemic amnesty” is that it’s asking for complete forgiveness without any sign of apology or repentance. Regardless of the cause — fear, uncertainty, etc. — There appears to be no sign of remorse for the lives that were upended because of the blind zealotry of “following the science” — a common refrain echoed by politicians, entertainers, and pundits alike.
People lost their jobsbecause they didn’t feel comfortable injecting an experimental and largely untested vaccine into their bodies. If they didn’t get fired for refusing the vaccine, they were often subjected to invasive weekly PCR testing — often at their own expense — in order to keep their jobs. Many others (myself included) lost loved ones and were unable to be with them in their final moments because of Covid restrictions. Discrimination became prevalent with one group refusing to serve those they perceived to be sinful or unclean because of what politicians and media personalities began referring to as a “pandemic of the unvaccinated” — a claim that we now know was false.
Those are just some of the personal implications of what happened during the pandemic. It doesn’t even account for the mental, social, and economic toll that it took. That's also not to mention how an entire generation of kids who are now behind in their learning due to school closures and the failures of eLearning. And then there's the devestation it did to the Church.
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A lot of people have been hurt by the collective response to the pandemic. Whether the steps taken were well intentioned or not is, in this case, irrelevant. The choices were made. The damage is done. It can’t be fixed by simply pretending like these things didn’t happen. In many ways what people faced was a state sponsored form of psychological and emotional abuse, and for any level of healing or forgiveness to happen on a societal level there need to be some difficult conversations had in humility and some genuine remorse for the ways people were harmed.
Grace and Accountability
As believers we must be willing to forgive and move on. We live in an era now where we have lost all semblance of a grace culture and in its place it has brought about one of fear and resentment. As God’s people we are called to love one another, to love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us. We must be willing to offer grace and to forgive, even if the apologies never come. This forgiveness is ultimately for our own sake, not theirs. Harboring unforgiveness drives a wedge between us and God. It — like all sin — harms our connection with the Holy Spirit and leads to more sin and more resentment.
But what if the apologies do come? What if the people who subjected us to all of this came out and said, “I’m sorry. I was scared and tried to help, but I hurt you and I was wrong.” Well that would be wonderful, and we should not hesitate to offer grace upon grace and to work on restoring those relationships. However, just as with a repentant abuser, there is still fallout from the abuse that they are accountable for. Jesus’ sacrifice covers the sin, but the damage needs to be healed and repaired which takes time and effort. Just like the drunk driver who is heartbroken that their choice led to a fatal crash, they are still responsible for their actions and are not absolved of all responsibility.
My prayer is that people will soften their hearts and that we would not seek a pandemic amnesty, but rather a pandemic reconciliation. I, for one do not expect it, but by God’s grace all things are possible. But let us begin by searching our own hearts and allowing God to clean us from our own sinful thoughts and feelings on the matter so we can be of one mind with Him.