When Doing Nothing is Loving Your Neighbor

With all this time on your hands, you could read my book Living in Sin, but if you haven’t or won’t, don’t worry. I’m in a generous mood. In it, I point out how when the Peasants’ Revolt roiled the kingdoms of 16th century Germany, the unprecedented violence and depravity of war spurred a wave of doomsday preaching and end-times predictions. Many churchmen, including Martin Luther, suspected the apocalypse was near and Christ’s return around the corner. With the world upside and maybe nearing closing time, Luther didn’t put on a sandwich board sign or pick up a bullhorn. He didn’t throw himself into prayer or fasting. He didn’t become a prepper, packing away food (or TOILET PAPER!!!) into flood buckets. 

He got married.

If the End was nigh and Christ was near, Luther didn’t think he ought to be found doing super-spiritual, pious, religious acts— as though he needed to impress God or had outstanding sins still in need of atonement. No, if the Maker of heaven and earth was about to bring heaven to earth, then Luther believed he ought to be found by the Creator living as a creature. He ought to be found not in terrified prayer but tending his little patch of the garden of God, an un-anxious Adam with an at ease Eve. As Luther wrote in a letter at the time to John Ruehel: “At the end, I shall be found in the state for which God created me.”  

In other words, Grace sets us free to attend to our creaturely needs and obligations. This is a helpful reminder for people like us who fret if we’re not DOING SOMETHING to help our neighbor then we’re somehow faulty disciples. In this moment for most of us, like in Luther’s own, the most loving act we can do for our neighbor is to do nothing. DOING NOTHING IS THE MOST PRO-LIFE THING YOU CAN DO. Stay home and attend to the little patch of God’s garden you’ve been given. I’m normally allergic to the TV preachers who’ll speculate that X is happening because of Y, but I’ll admit I do wonder if two of the providential lessons for us to learn from this pandemic are 1) we’re part part of a global Body of Christ for whom this is not a unique moment and 2) perhaps we’re being challenged right now, in this time when we can’t do all that much, to trust in the sufficiency of Christ’s merit rather than our own. 

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One Response

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