The Price of Love
When I wrote my pastoral letter for last month’s magazine, I had no idea just how much and how quickly the world would have moved on by the time I came to write this one. In an incredibly short space of time, for the time being, much of the world has shut down. Daily life for millions of people has been reshaped dramatically. Pubs, clubs, gyms and other places where people gather socially have been closed. Where possible, people are working from home. We have been asked to restrict our outings from home, to the minimum necessary for essential shopping or to collect medication, plus one daily trip out for the purposes of exercise (unless health or age means we must stay at home entirely). We’re learning to gauge what a distance of 2m looks like. And as a consequence of this crisis, unprecedented in the last century, the vast motor of the global economy is slowing and stuttering, like an engine being gradually starved of fuel.
It will be possible for the nations of the world, working together, to overcome the COVID-19 virus – at a price. Nobody yet knows just how great that price will be. But much to my horrified amazement, I’ve already seen some public figures and commentators querying whether the price is worth it – whether saving people’s lives is worth the undoubted economic hit that will follow. It’s true (on the evidence so far) that most people who contract COVID-19 will suffer only relatively mild symptoms, and make a full recovery. But that’s of no comfort to the thousands who’ve already lost a loved one to this new and virulent disease. It’s of no comfort to the many brave doctors, nurses and other healthworkers who will have to care for the thousands who will inevitably be worst affected, and some of whom have already paid with their lives as they have pursued their calling to save others’ lives.
What price a life? Sometimes we have to answer that question with a financial figure. When someone dies through another’s fault, there has to be some basis for calculating such compensation as money can afford. But money is a poor medium for reckoning either the value or quality of a life. Because love is priceless – the love that we feel for our nearest and dearest, our families and our friends. And for people of faith, that love flows from and is grounded in the love of God for humanity and for all creation. Love starts with God.
From the perspective of faith, life is a gift of God. It is precious and to be cherished, rather than treated carelessly or squandered. In the current circumstances, when we choose to stay at home and keep our distance from other people, that’s an act of love. We do it because in that way we stop the virus from spreading to those vulnerable to it, and in particular those who are most likely to suffer most from its worst effects. And that’s the most important thing to do right now.
So to those who question whether the price is worth paying for the sake of an indeterminate number of lives, I say – what if it’s you? Or your friends or family? Which of them – how many of them – would you be prepared to sacrifice to cushion the economic blow?
I want with all my heart to keep safe those I love. And as Holy Week approaches, I’m struck afresh at just how enormous was God’s sacrifice in allowing Jesus to give his life for the sake of the world. As a parent, it’s as counter-intuitive as it gets. But God didn’t require other people to make the sacrifice. God did for the world what only God could do – God revealed in human flesh in the person of Jesus. God made the ultimate sacrifice so that we wouldn’t have to – so that death would be defeated, and we might live in the hope of the resurrection. That resurrection hope remains as real now as it was before we’d even heard of COVID-19.
In the letter to the church in Ephesus, the author writes: And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. (Ephesians 3.18).
This Holy Week and Easter will be unlike any other I’ve experienced. But as I go through it, I know that I will be reminded once again of God’s all-surpassing love – love that, like all love, is beyond any economic reckoning.
With every blessing