Which ever way, there's risk
What’s it like to be a guinea pig? Well, we shall soon find out. As a nation we are, in the words of yesterday’s Nature briefing, about to embark on “an unprecedented public-health experiment.” This coming Monday the government are ending legal restrictions for mitigating the spread of Covid-19. All this despite steeply rising infections in our partially vaccinated population. This bold step has huge international ramifications. “The world has its eyes on the UK,” says Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the University of Texas COVID-19 Modelling Consortium. But many health professionals are nervous. “There is absolutely no justification for relaxing restrictions now,” warns Peter English, former chair of the British Medical Association’s Public Health Medicine Committee. But there again, Dr English is not governing England. However, we can’t live like this indefinitely. As this morning’s Daily Mirror reflects: BRITAIN IS GRINDING TO A HALT. Our wellbeing is suffering, especially for young people. People’s livelihoods are endangered. The Australian approach of zero-tolerance simply isn’t a viable option in our open society. The government argues that it makes sense to have the resultant spike during the summer months when our hospitals are less busy (relatively speaking, that is) and our schools and colleges on holiday. You can’t keep kicking the covid-can down the road. Very simply, as with ‘flu we have to learn to live with covid. The gamechanger is that widespread vaccinations has weakened the link between infections and hospitalizations or deaths. And now the emphasis is now on personal responsibility rather than legal proscription. Understandably many people are worried. After all it only takes one idiot to refuse to wear their mask in a crowded space. It seems that the virus was conveyed from Sydney to Melbourne by just two staff of a removal company who chose to break social distancing and mask-wearing rules. The result? A city once again in lockdown. This is one of those impossible situations. Whichever way it goes the Government are going to get it wrong. For the truth is that no one will ever know whether it got it right. We may be guinea pigs but we are not living in laboratory conditions. At best it may be a decade, probably longer, before a realistic appraisal can be made of government policy. What our leaders need is what the Book of Common Prayer calls ‘right judgment.’ In the collect for Whit Sunday, we ask God: “Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgement in all things.” That’s a wonderful phrase: ‘a right judgment in all things,’ the ability to think clearly and simply in a complex, even fraught, situation, and to come to the right decision. And it is a gift of the Holy Spirit and not something you can learn in the library. So how does God give this gift? Our first step as ever is the most important: to understand that our understanding is flawed. We so easily get things wrong. We need wisdom, the ability to maintain our poise when the ground shakes, to make the right turn when the road is dark. The Hebrew scriptures are in no doubt where such wisdom may be found. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise.” (Psalm 111:10) However, such God-given wisdom is not obvious. In fact, it is often opposed to the so-called wisdom embedded in our culture known as ‘common sense.’ As the apostle Paul teaches: “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:20) For Jesus teaches a totally new way of thinking: in order to get, we decide to give; in order to live, we take up our cross and follow him. Such wisdom, he teaches, is found in those you would least expect it. So he prays: “You have hidden these things from wise and educated people. But you have shown them to little children.” (Luke 10:21) And such wisdom takes time to grow – we are all in the slow-learners group. We reflect on our decision-making through regular Bible-teaching. We learn to listen; we examine our motives; we own our mistakes. We develop an awareness of how things play out over time. For an important component of Holy Spirit-inspired wisdom is courage. The world goes one way, we decide to go the other. We dare to take Jesus at his word. Frodo recalls Bilbo’s advice in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings “It's a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.” Strangely the key decisions are often not obvious at the time, when we turn the corner we are faced with an altogether new panorama. But we trust the Good Shepherd who leads the way and even calls us by name. Only in looking back may we see the true significance of our decisions. So we pray for our government as it seeks to balance the options. It is taking a risk but there again, risk is at the heart of following Jesus. Who in their right mind would choose the cross?