This question has always been important; yet now, perhaps more than ever, this question has far-reaching implications. In our social distancing and isolation, it is questions of humanity’s essential and tangible relatedness that come to the fore. Does the humanity of the elderly and immuno-comprised matter enough for the healthy to stay at home? Do we care enough for others that we are willing to share our possessions with those in dire need?
Leading up to the pandemic, I was disturbed by how quick and easy it was for some people to dismiss another’s humanity (or seek to destroy it) on social media. Hidden behind a screen, without having to look each other in the eyes, we (the collective we) became indifferent to one another’s personhood and inherent dignity. The person behind that Twitter handle or Facebook profile was reduced to a dangerous idea or opponent that had to be dismantled and knocked down.
After March 16, 2020, the day when Samford University announced that the campus would close for classes, I began to see a shift. Now that we had a greater opponent than each other looming, and given the sudden and abrupt loss of in-person relationships and community, we began to realize how much we needed each other. The irony is that now that almost all of our relationships and community have gone virtual, we are perhaps beginning to see the humanity of the person behind the online profile.
Fear has seized us all, and the coronavirus has not shown any partiality as to who it affects. In our isolation, many are now beginning to realize how important the other is to our daily living. We are interconnected. We need one another.
Under normal circumstances, we might tend to forget our interconnectedness. We might be tempted to believe the following: that my work is my own, my home is my castle and my freedoms only affect me. This self-centered focus most often leads to a devaluation of the other. But as this pandemic has forced us into a prison of sorts, placing us behind doors and face masks and six-feet- apart, the reality of a life without the other is a shallow, thin one.
The Church, however, has always made visible our interconnectedness and what it means to be human.
This is first of all interconnectedness to God, and then to one another. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “God himself did what no human being could do. He brought the sinner through death to life.” To truly be human, then, is to be a person whom Jesus brings from death to life. We are those baptized (Romans 6:3; 1 Corinthians 12:13), valued more by God than the best of our achievements. Our lives are now hidden with Christ, who is our life and whose death is our death and whose resurrection is our resurrection (Colossians 3:3-4). We are a new humanity (Colossians 3:11) because we share one body, namely the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27).
This means, further, that we are not merely coffee-shop style participants, being alone while at the same time surrounded by people. As individual members of the one body, we are in Christ, living and being rooted and built up in him (Colossians 2:7), open to the surprises of another. Clearly, this is not a Platonic reality or solely future aspiration. As the Church, we experience a true interconnectedness in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior—now, today! We find ourselves and we find each other when we lose ourselves to Jesus. By being made anew in him, we find strength and power to keep the commandments: to love God with all of who we are and to love others (even our non-Christian neighbors) as ourselves. In this body of Christ, we understand what it means to be human and what it means to look at our brothers and sisters and actually see their humanity. To see their humanity is to see them first as people for whom Christ came, died and overcame the grave. God has arranged it all in such a way that if one member of the body suffers the entire body suffers (1 Corinthians 12:26). Can we be more interconnected than this?!
In the Church we also find the already/not yet. The Church anticipates the future reality even as she experiences it now in this time of preparation. Thus, as the pandemic has even taken away from the Church the possibility of meeting with one another in person, the Church does not fail or die for her body is that of Jesus Christ, who lives eternally.
How, then, should we think about the theme of this issue of Beeson magazine? The question of our humanity is always relevant and will be applicable in numerous ways. But perhaps as we reflect on this question in light of our current situation, my prayer is that this will be a time in which our Christ-formed and Christ-shaped humanity witnesses to the world the perfect and true human, Jesus Christ. And when this pandemic ceases, and we find ourselves back in our routines, feeling safe and secure once more, I pray we will remember the other even as we remember who we are in Jesus Christ. I also hope we will remember that we are interconnected in ways that go beyond the virtual to the physical. We need one another, for that is how God has designed it.
Kristen Padilla is marketing and communications coordinator of Beeson Divinity School and author of Now That I'm Called: A Guide for Women Discerning a Call to Ministry.