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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Should I Stay Or Should I Go?

As the world is responding to the coronavirus outbreak and the Covid19 infection, I hear one question more than any other. It reminds me of the lyrics of a 1970's English rock band, The Clash, when they sang "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" Of course, they are talking to a significant other about the status of a relationship, but in the context of the coronavirus it is a much more sobering question. We are all asking:

  • Do I go on that vacation?
  • Should I attend that conference?
  • Do I go to work or work from home?
  • Is it worth going to a church service when I could stream it online?
  • Will I be able to attend classes?
  • Do I take that short term missions trip?
  • Should I go on a business trip for that meeting with coworkers? 
As I think about the gravity of these questions, I think back to a story from the ancient Hebrew nation told in the Old Testament. They had been slaves in Egypt for over 400 years and Moses had been sent by God to free them. In the process, the Israelites asked the question "Should I stay or should I go?" over and over. They would get excited about leaving and cheer for Moses as he confronted Pharaoh. Then the hammer would fall, Pharaoh would react and they would take it all back and wish for the times before Moses had "poked the bear" (as they say in the American West). They were conflicted. Was it better to endure the harsh work and the pestilence brought about by God's punishments on Egypt, or was it better to strike out across the desert for a homeland God had promised? This is not an easy question, and we see that in the tortured decision making process that many of the Israelites went through over many years to come. 

But what does the Israelite's experience with deciding whether to stay or go have to do with our virus outbreak of 2020? I would say that we can learn several things that may help us make some of these difficult decisions:
  1. Risk: With every decision, there are risks either way. There is no choice that eliminates risks. Instead it prefers certain risks to others. So if you have an important meeting to attend, you have the risk of infection and spreading a disease. That is the one we are thinking most about. But you also have the risk of not accomplishing the purpose of your meeting. The Israelites had to weigh the risks of staying in Egypt under a repressive slave master or trusting an unseen God as they marched into the desert. So our decision making is much more about weighing risks and making spirit-led decisions based on those risks rather than avoiding risks all together. 
  2. Protection: Your decision about whether to stay or go tends to be based in who's authority and protection you are relying on. The Israelites struggled to decide whether they would rather put their trust in Egypt's might or God's provision. They vacillated over and over again between these two sources of power. If you stay home, are you seeking to retain control? If you leave home are you trusting a government to keep you safe? Are you simply doing what your company or church or school says you should do and relying on their wise decision making? It is not bad to trust in your own good planning or various institutions who are trying to keep the public safe, but you need to be asking this question. Sometimes our trust is misplaced or badly prioritized. We need to be very aware of where our trust is placed and whether that represents our faith, values and common sense. 
  3. Fear: Be honest with yourself about your fears. Psychologists say that when there are multiple, conflicting messages in a time of panic we tend to take extreme action. Our fears take over and drive our decision making in ways that are not healthy or helpful. We see this happened to the Israelites after they had left Egypt and Pharaoh pursued them. As the Egyptian army swarmed in behind them and the ocean rose up before them, they broke down in fear and dismissed the entire operation as foolish. We have the same tendency. As we consider the airports, crowds, classrooms, auditoriums, buses, trains and hotels, we either strengthen our resolve and push through no matter what or panic and retreat. 
So, given the reality of issues such as managing risk, protection and fear, what should we do when we inevitably as the question "Should I stay or should I go?"

I think we can take our lead from what God asked of the Israelites as they made that determination in Egypt. 

First, we should understand the risks and respect them for what they are. We should not minimize or magnify but seek to see the true risk that is present. 

Second, we should make sure we are relying on the right protection in our lives. We need to search our hearts and make sure we are not trusting in unhealthy or faulty sources of protection. If you are a person of faith, then God is the ultimate protection when you are walking in His will. 

Third, we should search our hearts and own our fears. We need to clearly think about the emotions that the decision is causing and we need to ask ourselves if those emotions are providing helpful guidance or are distracting us from the best course of action. 

Finally, with the risks framed, our sources of protection understood and our fears revealed, we should make the decision that aligns with our faith, values and priorities. This lens sometimes means that the answer is fairly straightforward. If we do a risk assessment and there is a clear winning side, then we should follow that lead. If we have put ourselves under the protection of an authority that has made the decision, then we should stay true to that decision and follow their lead. If we can clearly identify the role that fear is playing and address those emotions, the answer may be clear. It may be a combination of all three. 

But sometimes there will not be a clear answer. This is where you need the wisdom of those around you and of our ultimate authority, the God of the universe. There is nothing that can take the place of talking with others and talking with God about the decision. And it is that process that grows us as people and helps us to learn discernment . . . a skill that will be tested and used countless more times as we are on mission in the world. 

Read these other posts on the coronavirus outbreak:

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