One of the more interesting byproducts of the sheltering laws during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is how much it underscores the fact we are not simply our bodies. I know that on its face this may seem counter intuitive, but let's think about our situation and what we are learning through our collective ordeal.
For weeks now, all the reporting on coronavirus and its ramifications have been from primarily a materialist point of view. Essential services have been defined to include bodily health, shelter, and transportation areas—all with the goal of preserving our physical selves. In my state of California, marijuana shops are classified as essential while churches are not.
Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not saying that churches should be meeting together. I think in light of the dangers of contagion, restricting groups temporarily is prudent and biblical. (Remember, God took Jewish temple worship away from his people for seventy years while they were captives in Babylon.) My observations are more focused on how little consideration the spiritual costs have received during the whole crisis. News reports hunt down experts in biology, medicine, and epidemiology to update us on how to protect our bodies, but how many give equal time to faith leaders for advice on bolstering the spiritual health of those cloistered at home?
Isolation and IntimacySpiritual health is an essential aspect of being human, though. The interesting thing is that as our social distancing and sheltering-in-place stretch from a couple of weeks into months, we are realizing more and more how much it does. While churches can hold virtual services, everyone feels how incomplete such electronically simulated gatherings are. One of the reasons we need to assemble together physically (Heb. 10:25) is because it helps us relate to one another. That difference is becoming more and more apparent as we are limited to pictures instead of proximity. I'd rather have my family sitting in the same room with me without a lot of conversation than having Zoom engagements sans intimacy.
But just what is it that makes physical proximity more meaningful than virtual proximity? The difference is hard to explain in a purely materialist worldview. If all we are can be reduced to chemical reactions, then a virtual version of yourself should be just as good as the real thing. The same physical senses of sight and sound are engaged whether you see someone in front of you or on a screen. Sure, we cannot touch or smell others (perhaps the latter is a good thing!), but why is it more satisfying to have your friend from church sitting across from you rather than on a computer monitor? You're not touching in either instance.
Soulish ExperiencesThere seems to be a shared aspect of who we are spiritually when we come together in one space. That's why the Christian concept of koinonia or fellowship played such a vital role in the church's formation. Acts 2:42 tells us this was a doctrine of the church, rooted in the Apostles themselves. In John 4:24, Jesus instructs how since God is spirit, our worship must be based not in our physical behavior but in our spirit, our very essence. The Psalms also command us to praise God together with one voice (Psa. 47 & 95), and Paul echoes this in 1 Corinthians 14:26 and Ephesians 5:18-19. There is a unique aspect to us being together that cannot be replicated separately, as our souls are aligned towards the one true God and to the building up of each other.
One of the ways to realize the value of something is to make it scarce. If we are simply bodies, then our electronic communication channels should be as valuable as being close to one another. But we know that isn't true. We can feel there's something missing, a piece of reality that isn't measurable by sight or sound, or even touch or smell. There's the presence of individuals in one's life that is real and missing. I think as our proximity to one another becomes scarcer, we'll feel our need for soulish interactions will become more acute. Human beings are both body and soul. While screens can provide a replication of our bodies for one another, it cannot replicate that immaterial bonding between our souls. Our souls need to be in contact with one another, and it's this missing element we will need to address.