Americans are not doing what we need to do: Why we must practice 'physical distancing' now

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Americans are not doing what we need to do: Why we must practice ‘physical distancing’ now

March 19, 2020 -

Americans are not changing our behavior as we absolutely must to defeat this enemy.

A new Harris Poll survey reports that 89 percent of Americans are still going to coffee shops. Half of respondents have not altered their hygiene behavior with house guests (e.g., asking friends and family to wash their hands immediately upon entering); 58 percent have not changed how often they are inviting people over.

You may have seen footage of beaches and bars filled with people socializing as if the situation were normal. One college student on spring break at Miami beach told reporters, “This virus ain’t that serious.”

This student is absolutely wrong. 

Coronavirus is killing thousands of people around the world. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is describing this as the gravest crisis we have faced since World War II. As I have written, more Americans could die from coronavirus than died in that horrific war.

The fact that you don’t feel ill does not mean that you are not ill. 

Many people with coronavirus will never have symptoms of the disease or will confuse their symptoms with seasonal allergies or the flu. However, they are still contagious. They can still infect others, including those who are most at risk.

And since more than half of all Americans have at least one of the symptoms that puts them at risk, to put the situation bluntly: we can literally be infecting people who will die as a result.

How can we get more of us to do what everyone must do?

The urgency of ‘physical distancing’

A psychologist suggests that we reframe the answer as “physical distancing,” as opposed to “social distancing.” This is a great idea, for two reasons.

First, “physical distancing” describes the actual need of the day. Staying at least six feet away from others is mandatory. 

Second, “social distancing” (apart from its meaning in the context of the pandemic) can contribute to loneliness, anxiety, depression, and other health problems.

So, we should use social media and other technology to stay in touch with each other and to support each other. But, again, we must do what health experts are pleading with us to do in physical terms.

As we work to save ourselves and others, what biblical assurance can we claim today?

David’s most famous psalm includes this declaration, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

Having traveled in the Holy Land more than thirty times over the years, I can tell you that such valleys are common especially in the Judean desert. Some are so deep that shadows can hide predators who threaten the sheep that pass through.

In such times, the sheep need the shepherd not ahead or behind them but beside them. That’s why David says of his Shepherd, “You are with me.” Our Lord is with us in every valley we enter.

The shepherd’s “rod” was a short club, three feet long, with a heavy weight at one end. The shepherd used it to kill snakes, beat back wolves, and flatten thorn bushes. He threw it over the heads of his sheep to kill a charging wolf. He also used it to drive a wayward sheep back into the fold.

His “staff” was eight feet long with a crooked end. He used it to keep the sheep together, to guide them, and to pull them back from thorn bushes and rocky crevasses.

His presence with them in the valley, and his rod and staff, “comforted” them. The Hebrew means “to preserve a feeling of security, peace, and joy.” Even as they walk through the valley.

‘Draw near to God’

But these sheep must choose to trust their shepherd. They must choose to stay at his side, to stay under the protection of his rod and staff, to stay in his presence. The staff is only eight feet long. They must stay close to their shepherd.

Suffering can make us self-sufficient. We decide we can beat this thing. We work harder, run faster, climb higher, determined we will win. We can run ahead of God and expect him to follow. But the sheep can’t get through this valley themselves. The wolves and the thieves and the thorns and the crevasses will get them every time. Self-reliance is a sure prescription for disaster.

And suffering can make us angry as well. If God is such a great shepherd, why are we here? Why should we trust him any longer?

In the valley, we must choose whether we will depend on God or ourselves. Scripture promises, “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you” (James 4:8).

How will you draw near to your Shepherd today?

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