Martin Luther: Social Solidarity and Physical Distance

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There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

“Very well, by God’s decree the enemy has sent us poison and deadly refuse. Therefore, I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance infect and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, He will surely find me, and I have done what He has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely, as stated above. See, this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God.”

Martin Luther in The Annotated Luther, Pastoral Writings, Volume 4, ed. Mary Jane Haemig (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2016) 404. Special thanks to my GTP colleague, Ruthie Cristobal, for redefining “social distance” with the terms “social solidarity” and “physical distance.” That’s the posture I am recommending from snow-covered Colorado.

During the plague of 1527, Martin Luther describes the unselfish act of keeping “physical distance” from others which is to avoid unnecessary contact with people to who may be infected and if infected to avoid unknowingly spreading disease to others. Again, this practice is being prescribed virtually all over the planet in this COVID-19 crisis.

Rather than complain about what the authorities are doing or worrying about what we cannot do, consider what you can do to show love for God by loving others with “social solidarity.” Call or text your neighbor to check in. Discourage foolhardy behavior, and always include love with whatever you do because perfect love is the only thing that drives out fear.