“Coronavirus and Human Limitations”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations

Even as the epidemic continues to ravage the United States, the blame game is already ramping up.  It’s the fault of the Chinese.  It’s President Trump’s fault.  It’s the fault of the CDC.  It’s the fault of those moronic Gen-Z spring-breakers.  And so on.  COVID-19 will have run its course in a year or two, but I would imagine the culpability debate will outlive me.

There’s a sense in which all of this is quite reasonable.  We are faced with a generational tragedy, and already it has become apparent that not all the decision-makers involved have done everything exactly right.  It’s fairly easy to indict any of the above people or groups for what they did or didn’t do. 

However, foolishness and poor judgment has been par for the course for the human race since the beginning.  As a history enthusiast, I’ve read countless books that show how the failures of some leader led to catastrophe.  The story of the Civil War (the period of history I know best) is a story of if-onlys.  If only McClellan had been willing to launch a final assault during the battle of Antietam!  If only Lee had declined battle at Gettysburg and sought a better opportunity through maneuver!  Nearly every battle in the war is defined by someone’s consequential mistake.

In short, the flawed people and organizations of today have plenty of company.  Theoretically, all of them could have done better than they did.  Practically, humankind never does do better. 

Our power exceeds our wisdom.  Our ability to predict the future is not nearly as good as we think it is.  We think of ourselves as rational actors, but when we most need to think clearly, our judgment instead is clouded by our desires and fears. 

However, we find these truths about ourselves difficult to face.  It’s easier to play the blame game, to pretend that with the right leaders and policies, we would have gotten it right, and indeed that once we put the right leaders and policies in place, from now on, everything will be right.  It’s easier to pretend that we are imperfect but capable of perfection.

Rather than calling us to better performance, though, these tragedies should remind us of our inherent fallibility.  In reality, the new policies and leaders will fail somewhere like the old policies and leaders did.  There will be new catastrophes and new disasters, every one of them avoidable--in retrospect.  Our striving for perfection is a doomed struggle.

Instead, we should strive for humility and grace.  It is not only the powerful who have failed and always will fail.  It is our families, our friends, our co-workers, our brethren, and ourselves.  We shouldn’t think that we will get it right, nor should we expect others to.  Failure is part of the human condition.

Above all, we should learn to rely on God, precisely because He is not like us.  We don’t know what we’re doing, but He does.  The future is hidden from us, but He sees the end from the beginning.  We continually fail, but His word continually accomplishes His will. 

Rather than pretending that we’ve got it figured out, or even that we have the capacity to figure it out, we need to follow and trust Him.  This is true when His will makes sense to us but especially when it doesn’t.  Regardless of how it seems to us, we never will put a foot wrong when we walk in His footsteps.

Throughout this crisis, then, seek God.  Continue to seek Him when it is over.  Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.