Crises bring out the best in people. What has become immediately apparent over the last few weeks is that the reserves of kindness, generosity and love for each other are often far deeper than we could have imagined.

The country may not literally be on fire, but it’s the imagery of the person running into the flames rather than away from the risk that we are buoyed by, that we admire, that is lauded so strongly on social media and the news. 

One of the challenges of this specific crisis is how inactive and intangible our help and selflessness must be. We can’t lean in, lend a hand and be present in the ways we would normally try to. Distance is a form of kindness and yet feels very unnatural. We have huge admiration for those in the NHS or other critical services who are on the physical frontline treating patients and at greater risk of exposure to the virus, but for most of us there is a sense of helplessness as the most beneficial thing we can do is wash our hands and sit on the sofa. 

We have huge admiration for people acting selflessly, but also for those being responsible by not going to work or leaving the house as they may be a risk to others. Bravery is easily misconstrued as foolhardy behaviour. Brave actions right now might include doing very little! But we are not just stuck at home, and while for many that may be the sensible thing to do, it can’t be the only thing we do.

There are foodbanks running out of food, people living in isolation, there are charities reliant on an elderly volunteer workforce, there are ministries that are premised on the importance of face-to-face physical contact as a lifesaving measure – I’m thinking about drug recovery groups, rehabilitation programmes for newly released prisoners. In all the talk of the safety of staying at home let us remember the cost that this may come at.

It seems only wise for churches to not meet for the foreseeable future, but that casts a challenge to reimagine what the church community looks like. How can the church be more than a streamed Sunday service if we can’t connect in person?

Crises bring out the best in many. But they also reveal our dark side. While six out of ten may think it is unacceptable to buy in bulk at this time, I wonder how many of those did what I did yesterday and seeing pasta on the shelf of a supermarket, grabbed a packet. I didn’t buy in bulk, it was just one 500g pack. But I have pasta in the cupboard at home and my overriding motivation was that I better get it now in case they don’t have it when I do need it. That’s the kind of action we often find ourselves resorting to.

It is when the sinfulness of every human heart is exposed. We can cry in horror at people offering to do an elderly person’s shopping taking the money and running. We can be appalled at profiteering off hand sanitiser and soap. But we loiter as the toilet roll is being unwrapped in aisle 19 because we don’t want to run out next week. 

The very same person who acts heroically can be a hoarder.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote in The Gulag Archipelago: If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

The very same person who acts heroically can be a hoarder, and the person providing compassion to their neighbours by doing shopping and sharing toilet roll can spread the disease by going into work the next day. Crises can make us think in black and white and good and evil. What we need is to know that we all have the capacity for incredible kindness and the tendency to slip into acts of evil.

It is God who enables us to put behind us our evil desires and pursue what is good, as Romans 12:2 puts it: Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

There are challenges for churches in these days, but the importance of continuing to grow in likeness to God, to meet together (virtually), to urge one another on, to receive the Spirit who enables us to grow in Christlikeness. That’s the task before us all, and with the breath of the Spirit and the light of the gospel we can be witnesses to the transformative hope of Christ.