Overcoming the Infinite:Tracing Trajectories of Lockdown Theology

Shane Bennett
Thursday, October 22nd 2020

Years ago Sea World produced a glitzy and slick show with trained orcas called ‘Believe’. I won’t get into all the details, but the general idea was that if you just believe, you can do anything or be anything. Well, I hate to be a bubble-burster but to be frank this is simply not true. If I want to be an elephant, I can pretend, but I won’t grow a trunk. I won’t grow wings simply because I believe I can fly. I am limited by my nature. And yet, we desperately want to believe that we can overcome any and every limitation placed upon us. This is something we’ve seen recently in our collective human response to the Corona Virus.

With any event that transpires in history, we are not able to clearly evaluate an event’s impact upon history, upon society, or upon the church, until a certain amount of time has transpired. In the same way it’s impossible for us, as creatures, to know the full extent of the ramifications our present decisions will have until they too are past. The point is this: As more time passes clarity grows and we are able to more clearly see why certain decisions were made, whether we were right to make them, and what philosophical or theological ideas led to our decision making.

In this way, as some time has elapsed, it’s now easier to reflect on the philosophical underpinnings and theological beliefs that have led to certain decisions concerning Covid-19 and the impact those decisions have had upon society and upon the church. Covid-19 has acted as a catalyst that helps us see these underlying theological beliefs and know they are there. In that spirit, I would like to reflect on one underlying theological belief that continues to crop up time and time again in our world: a desire to overcome the infinite.

Some definitions here might be helpful. I’m using the term infinite here in its negative sense, without limits. The infinite is not contained by anything or limited. It cannot be measured. In this sense, God alone is infinite. He is unlimited, for example, by space and time. When we consider God’s being and attributes, infinity applies to ‘all that is in God.’ He is infinite in power, in holiness, in justice, goodness and truth. He is infinite in knowledge and wisdom; it is impossible for us fully to know the mind of God. We can understand bits and pieces, whatever he allows us to know through his revealed Word, but there is much we do not know. Even if given all eternity, we still would not know God’s mind completely.

God is infinite and we, as created beings, are finite. We have limits. We must sleep and eat. We are confined to space and time. We can only be in one place at a time and only live at one moment in time. And because we are finite beings we must make choices. We only have so much time each day to spend at work, or with family, or in worship. We have choices to make every day about how to use our limited time and about how not to use that limited time. With every positive decision we make, we also reject other possibilities, that’s the nature of being limited in our being.

This brings us to Covid-19 and the decisions made all across the world to place stay-at-home orders on the population to limit the spread of the virus. Missing in much of the discussion is the simple reality that we are finite creatures, who, when we make a decision to do one thing, we are also not choosing, not prioritizing, or not focusing on other things. In other words: there is a trade-off in our decision making because we have limits. Much of the world, for the most part, has followed those stay-at-home orders and the number of deaths from Covid-19 have indeed been limited. That, however, is only one part of the equation; there have been other ramifications as well to turning our lives upside down and turning from the normal courses of our lives. Research is suggesting: that suicide rates are up and suicide hotlines are being overrun; domestic violence is on the rise and so are drug relapses, overdoses and even divorce; alcohol sales are up, in some cases being reported as 400% more than last year, and mental health is suffering. There will be short term and long term economic implications. Many are enraged over these fallouts for one reason or another and it has led to much civil unrest.

Humanity, in general, very often fails to recognize its limits. Instead of accepting God’s providence and his sovereign control in all things, we have sought to wrest it from his hand. Like those at Babel who sought to ascend into the heavens to cast God down from his throne, we thought to ourselves that we could overthrow the infinite and take his place, that we could thwart this virus without any ill effects. But we were wrong.

And if we recognize our limits, as humans, we very often hate them. We push our bodies beyond God-given limits, ignoring our need for sleep, our need for nourishment, our need for rest, because we still believe we can overcome the infinite. It’s the same sin of old when Adam rejected the limits God placed on him and sought to overcome them. To step into the role of God and decide for ourselves what is truly good and what is not. But there is only one infinite being: God.

And we are not him.

And try as we might to overcome our limits or to overcome the infinite, we cannot and will not, for we are finite beings. From dust we came, to dust we shall return. So how ought we as Christians reflect on the reality of our finite beings, and our infinite God? Instead of rejecting our limits, we ought to say, with the musician Rag-a-bones man ‘I’m only human after all’. When we recognize our own limited abilities, to even contain a tiny virus or the effects of stay-at-home orders, may it lead us to worship and wonder at the immeasurable and unsearchable God who holds his church in the palm of his hands and is limited by nothing, save for himself. May we wonder at and bow down before this limitless being from this day forward and forever more crying out with the Psalmist ‘O Lord, Our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth (Psalm 8:8).

Shane Bennett is the church planting pastor of Reformation OPC in Grand Rapids Michigan. He is a graduate of Westminster Seminary California.

Thursday, October 22nd 2020

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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