Imagine that Socrates, that ever-questioning Greek philosopher from 400 BC, were to visit America in 2020, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. What would confuse him? What would he ask about? What would you answer?
Look, there he is now! You can recognize Socrates by his Athenian chilton, or tunic, and by the fact that he is the only one in the supermarket not wearing a medical face mask.
SOCRATES: You look offended. It cannot be anything I said, since until now I have not spoken to you. Is it perhaps something I did not say that bothers you?
SHOPPER: It’s just that I’m out of toilet paper, and the shelf here is empty. I’ve been to three other stores today, and it’s the same at all of them. No toilet paper anywhere!
SOCRATES: Paper I know about. Although sometimes we called it parchment. We rolled our writing paper into scrolls, you know. But toilet paper, that sounds new to me, and very important, too. Do you roll that kind of paper as well?
SHOPPER: No, we unroll it. And we don’t use it for writing.
SOCRATES: Good. I always thought writing was a crutch for weak minds. A well-trained mind will remember words, not reply upon a written record of them. Speech is a rich gift; to reduce our utterances to paper and then roll it up always conceals more than it reveals, don’t you agree?
SHOPPER: I’m sorry. You must be crazy. There’s one more store in town. I’m going there for toilet paper.
The shopper abruptly leaves, just as a man pushing a cart overflowing with canned food, bottled water, and potato chips rounds the corner, nearly running the first shopper down.
SOCRATES: Whoa! That’s the strangest chariot I’ve ever seen, and I doubt you’ve ever driven it before.
CART MAN: What are you talking about?
SOCRATES: Clearly I’m making two claims. The first claim is about the strangeness of your chariot, which is supported by the fact that it has four rather than two wheels and no place for hitching a horse. On second thought, it’s not a chariot at all, but some kind of wagon, I suppose. Forgive me. You rounded the corner so quickly that everything blurred in my eyes and I could not at first tell what this contraption was. As I’m always telling my student Plato, we ought not trust our eyes too much; senses can deceive, but reason grasps the truth. Anyway, my second claim was, admittedly, exaggerated. For that I apologize. Actually, I have no way of knowing how long you have been pushing this wagon, or whether you have done so more than once.
CART MAN: What?!
SOCRATES: Well, initially, I suspected you had never pushed that wagon before, because you were pushing it so haphazardly. But upon further reflection, I now suspect that you have been pushing it for a long time, for two reasons: one, it is full of cans; two, your hands are chaffed and bleeding. However, perhaps it has been full of cans from eternity or someone else filled it or some other such explanation. How, then, can I safely conclude that you filled it? As for your hands, something else may have made them bloody.
CART MAN: Something else indeed! It’s the hand sanitizer. With that horrible sickness going around, I use it religiously.
SOCRATES: Religion! Do tell me more: do you worship one god or many gods? People are so divided on that question.
CART MAN: I don’t worship any god.
SOCRATES: Oh, so you are a liar then.
CART MAN: How dare you!
SOCRATES: How dare I not! I’m being reasonable, and to forsake reason would be daring to the point of dangerous! For to not admit that you were a liar when you are liar would be to promote a lie rather than the truth. Clearly you are a liar, for you told me both that you wash your hands religiously and that you do not worship any of the gods. Those two claims cannot both be true; at least one of them is false. On second thought, I may have been too hasty, for there is an alternative explanation. Perhaps you are fool rather than a liar—a fool also says what is false, but without knowing or intending it. Are you a fool then?
CART MAN: Certainly not! I know what’s going on with this COVID-19 thing, and I so I wash my hands numerous times a day.
CART MAN: Yes, as in the novel corona virus disease from December 2019. It swept across China and now has enveloped the world with, well, I suppose you old-fashion philosophers would probably call it a “pestilence.” We call it COVID-19.
SOCRATES: And can you see it, this thing that has swept around the world? If it were on your hands, for example, would you know? Is that when you decide to wash?
CART MAN: No. It’s too small to be seen, except by scientists. I wash because it possibly is on my hands. I wear this face mask for the same reason, to avoid breathing in any of the invisible virus particles.
SOCRATES: Perhaps you are less foolish than I thought. For, as I’ve been teaching Plato, it is better to rely on reason than upon sight. I realize now that you do not rely upon sight. Rather, even when you see no sign of pestilence on your hands, you reason that your hands might be polluted by it, and therefore you wash your hands, is that right?
CART MAN: Exactly!
SOCRATES: In fact, your reasoning far exceeds my own.
CART MAN: It does?
SOCRATES: Clearly. For what you can see, what we both can see, is that you have washed your hands so excessively with that—what do you call your cleanser?
CART MAN: Hand sanitizer.
SOCRATES: You have washed your hands so excessively with hand sanitizer that the skin has become raw, drying out especially at the knuckles, and has begun to bleed.
CART MAN: All too true. But what else am I to do?
SOCRATES: Exactly my point. You have wisely preferred to use the soap to remove the pollution from your hands, and although your fingers no doubt hurt from the bleeding, you keep applying hand sanitizer, because you know that the bleeding will in fact promote good health.
CART MAN: You lost me there. I’d rather my knuckles not bleed. Why do you say bleeding would promote good health?
SOCRATES: I’m simply repeating what everyone else says. They got the idea from Hippocrates, I believe. The four humors of the body are supposed to be balanced: blood and phlegm and bile and—
CART MAN: No, no, we don’t believe that stuff anymore. Bleeding is in fact very dangerous. I hear blood-letting killed George Washington. Anyway, an open wound like this—on my knuckle here—leaves me vulnerable to infection.
SOCRATES: You mean like a COVID-19 infection?
CART MAN: Yes—yes, actually. Excuse me. I must go find some more hand sanitizer right away!
SOCRATES: Before you go, can you show me the way to the physicians’ quarter? I want to learn more about COVID-19, its prevention, and its treatment.
CART MAN: Physicians charge a lot more than a quarter, you know.
SOCRATES: “Quarter” is not a denomination of money in my way of thinking. It is a section of town. Do you not have a section of town where the physicians practice their healing arts?
CART MAN: No. We have clinics all throughout the city. But the best of the physicians are at the hospital.
SOCRATES: Then it is to the hospital that I shall go! Which way is it?
CART MAN: That’s Main Street over there. Follow it three blocks east. The hospital is the building with the big red “H” on it.
Socrates walks to the hospital. Arriving, he cautiously steps into the rotating door, walks around 720 degrees, and finally finds himself inside the hospital.
NURSE: Sir, you can’t stand there. Can’t you tell? We’re in the middle of a pandemic!
SOCRATES: Finally, someone who speaks my language! Do you know other Greek words? In any case, “pan” means “all” and “demic” is from “demos” meaning “people,” so I conclude that you don’t want me standing in the middle of all the people in this crowded lobby.
NURSE: Not unless you’re here to be tested. But “pandemic” doesn’t refer to this crowd. It’s the disease.
SOCRATES: You mean COVID-19?
SOCRATES: So is “pandemic” another name for the same pestilence?
NURSE: No. “Pandemic” refers to how widespread the disease is.
SOCRATES: I don’t understand. Why are you testing people for a pandemic disease?
NURSE: Because it’s pandemic!
SOCRATES: But if COVID-19 is pandemic, then all of the people must have the disease, so all of the test results will be the same: positive. Why go through the trouble of testing each person, if you already know the answer for all of them?
NURSE: “Pandemic” does not mean that all of the people have the disease. It just means that it is very, very widespread.
SOCRATES: How many people have tested positive so far?
NURSE: In this hospital, so far none, and we’ve run about 500 tests. Worldwide, about 200,000.
SOCRATES: And how many people are there in the world these days?
NURSE: Nearly 8 billion.
SOCRATES: My word! So, let’s employ arithmetic, the fourth of the seven liberal arts: 200,000 divided by 8 billion … “pandemic” means “infecting 0.0025% of the people.” When 99.9975% of the population remains healthy, it’s called a pandemic disease? Why, I should think you’d call that pandemic health! What, then, do you call a disease that becomes very widespread?
NURSE: “Pandemic” means “very widespread.” Before that, when there were fewer cases, we called it an “epidemic.”
SOCRATES: I understand: “epi” means “upon,” so when COVID-19 first came upon the people, it was an epidemic, but now that 0.0025% of the people have it, it is a pandemic.
NURSE: No, that’s not quite right either. When a disease first comes upon the people, we call it an “outbreak.”
SOCRATES: Yes, I think I saw that in the market earlier today: a man had an outbreak on his knuckles. He was going to treat the pollution—or, supposed pollution, I think—with hand sanitizer. In any case, this disease must be very life-threatening for everyone to be so concerned about it when only 0.0025% of the people actually are suffering from it.
NURSE: Yes, it is a fatal disease, but most people who have COVID-19 are not suffering any symptoms at all.
SOCRATES: How perplexing, this COVID-19 pandemic! How many have died in the past month? And how many people are—may I call them “asymptomatic”? “A” is a Greek prefix meaning “not,” but I fear in your language it might mean the opposite, like “pan” has come to mean “0.0025%” rather than “all” in your manner of speaking.
NURSE: Agreed: “asymptomatic” means “showing no symptoms.” Over half of infections are thought to be asymptomatic. Most of the symptomatic cases exhibit mild respiratory discomfort. It’s the severe cases that we are concerned about, since some patients experience so much difficulty in breathing that they require a ventilator.
SOCRATES: Now I fear you are speaking Latin, rather than Greek. In my day, the Romans had not yet risen to world domination, but I understand that much of your English language comes from Latin, as a result of the expansion of the Roman Empire and the subsequent invasion of the Normans into England. The Normans brought Latin-rooted words in the French they spoke. May I be safe to infer that “ventilator” means some sort of air-moving machine?
NURSE: Exactly. And hospitals don’t have enough of them to accommodate all of the patients who need them amid this COVID-19 pandemic.
SOCRATES: Finally I understand. You are not nearly so sloppy with words as I had supposed. “Pan” continues to mean “all” in the year 2020, but not in relation to all of the “demos” or people, but rather in relation to the ventilators. What you are experiencing is a COVID-19 panventilation: all of the ventilators have been used up by the small minority of severe cases among the 0.0025% of the world’s people who have contracted a disease that most of the time shows no symptoms at all and much of the time causes only minor discomfort but in rare cases leads to severe breathing problems, and for those rare cases, all of the ventilators have been used up, hence it is a panventilated disease!
NURSE: Yes, that’s all correct. And there’s more. The disease is highly contagious—another Latin root, for you.
SOCRATES: I know that root. When people “touch each other” they pass the disease from one person to the next.
NURSE: Correct again, but, again, there’s more. Even breathing near each other, or touching the same object that another has touched, can spread the disease.
SOCRATES: Then it truly will become pandemic. It is only a matter of time before 100% of the population becomes infected with this pestilence.
NURSE: Many will get the disease, too many, but I doubt that absolutely all people will get it.
SOCRATES: But if one person touches an object, and another person touches the same object, or if one person expires air and another person inspires the same air, and such sharing of objects and of air can spread the disease, then it logically follows that, after a sufficient number or repetitions of such events, given enough time, the disease will spread to everyone. Or do you suppose that the air is not something we share? That one group of people shares part of the air, and keeps it separate from the air that others share?
NURSE: That’s exactly what we are trying to accomplish. The government has ordered all citizens to stay in their homes, starting at midnight tonight, so that they do not touch same things or breath the same air, as other people in the city. Only essential businesses, like this hospital, will in operation; everyone else is required to stay home.
SOCRATES: I should like to know more. This government of which you speak, is it controlled by the one, by the few, by the many, or by the all?
NURSE: In some respects, by each of those, but presently we are in a state of emergency. The people—what you are calling “the all”—are forbidden from assembling for caucuses or primaries or conventions. The legislature—what you are calling “the many”—also has shut down. Some health advisors—what you are calling the “the few”—continue to work with the governor—whom you would call “the one.” It is the governor who has ordered that everyone remain in their homes.
SOCRATES: Then it is to the governor I must go, for he who governs will have the answers that I seek concerning the manner of his governing.
NURSES: You’ll find the governor’s office in the State House, directly across the street.
Socrates walks across the street and enters the State House.
CLERK: Sir, you may not enter here.
SOCRATES: I apologize. I saw the sign outside, which reads “Enter Here,” so I thought this is precisely where I should enter. However, I often am mistaken about things like this, that seem so simple at first and then prove to be not simple at all. I just came from the hospital where a nurse was talking around me in circles. I learned a lot from her. For example, did you know that “all” in English means “pan” in Greek which means “0.0025%” in arithmetic? I know it sounds self-contradictory to claim that “all” and “0.0025%” are equivalent, but in the midst of our conversation it started to make sense. Would you like me to tell you how that conversation went?
CLERK: Sir, the building is closed. Have you not heard of the COVID-19 pandemic, or the governor’s order?
SOCRATES: That I have. In fact, that is why I have come. I have some questions for the governor.
CLERK: Sir, we are in a state of emergency. I must insist that you leave now.
SOCRATES: It is because of the emergency that I am here. I would like to observe how justice is preserved in a pandemic, for the preservation of justice is the chief function of a governor, is it not?
CLERK: I don’t know who you are or what stunt you are trying to pull, but we have no time for philosophical speculation. We are in a state of emergency and this building is closed to all visitors. You must leave now.
SOCRATES: You appear to be quite afraid, and I think I understand why. You say that you have no time for philosophy—for the pursuit of wisdom. It reminds me of farming, actually.
CLERK: Of farming?
SOCRATES: When a farmer does not devote time to cultivating crops, then fewer crops will grow, and when food declines so does happiness. Similarly, when a person sets aside no time to cultivate wisdom, then there will be a decline of wisdom, and when wisdom declines, so does happiness. The end result of either inadequate farming or insufficient philosophy will be that both the governor and those whom he governs shall become unhappy. Not only that, but since wisdom for the soul is clearly more important than food for the body, a famine for knowledge is the worse kind of famine. Therefore, whatever deprives people of time to think philosophically is an emergency indeed! Is that, then, the real meaning of “pandemic”—that all of the people will be deprived of time to think philosophically, because 0.0025% of the people have a disease called COVID-19?
CLERK: I don’t understand.
SOCRATES: Let me put it this way. A state of emergency is precisely when philosophy lends her greatest aid to humanity. For only wisdom can rescue us from confusion, misunderstanding, falsehood, and the like, and all emergencies result from such evils. Is the governor well-trained in philosophy, then?
CLERK: The governor has his advisers, and I don’t think you are one of them. I will call security to escort you out of the building.
SOCRATES: No need for that. I’ll see myself out. But could you help me with just one more thing?
CLERK: What now?!
SOCRATES: I’d like to visit one of your temples. For whenever Athens was in a state of emergency, the people gathered in their temples to sacrifice to their gods. I should like to learn how your people do this, too.
CLERK: No one may gather in temples, because the governor has ordered everyone to stay at home.
SOCRATES: But the nurse told me that all essential businesses are to remain in operation.
CLERK: That is correct. What’s your point?
SOCRATES: It is your point that interests me. I think I can deduce it now. Only those businesses that are essential may be open, right?
SOCRATES: Which is the same as to say that no business that is non-essential shall be open, right?
CLERK: Of course.
SOCRATES: Which is the same as to say that all businesses that are non-essential must not be open, in other words, must be closed?
CLERK: You are logical, I’ll admit at least that.
SOCRATES: So, we have two major premises: First, that all essential businesses are to be open, and second that all non-essential businesses are to be closed. You also stated a conclusion, namely, that all temples are to be closed.
SOCRATES: What’s missing is the minor premise. Your conclusion requires the minor premise that all temples are non-essential.
CLERK: That’s a fact!
SOCRATES: Is it? An alternative minor premise would be that a temple is essential, in which case the conclusion would have to be revised to state that the temple should be open. So, how do you know it to be the case that all temples are non-essential?
CLERK: Because the governor has so ordered it!
SOCRATES: Is the governor, then, an expert in theology, so that he would know whether or not a temple is essential?
CLERK: He just knows it. We all know temples are non-essential.
SOCRATES: Do the people who work in temples—priests and so on—do they know this, too? It would seem that they do not know this. For if they did know that their work was non-essential, then why would they dedicate their lives to such work?
CLERK: They would be fools, I suppose.
SOCRATES: I would like to know rather than to suppose. You have been most patient with me, but I know you want me to leave, so I shall. Which way to the nearest temple?
The clerk silently points the way. Socrates, following the cue, soon finds a pastor hanging a sign on the door of a church.
SOCRATES: Excuse me. Are you a priest at this temple?
PASTOR: In a way. You have the right idea, but we call this a “church” and I am called a “pastor.”
SOCRATES: Another Latin root! Those mighty Romans! Your language so often prefers Latin over Greek. You are a “shepherd,” then, for that is what “pastor” meant to the Romans? And do you have sheep inside this church?
PASTOR: I am a shepherd of souls, one who cares for people’s spiritual needs. We sometimes call the people who attend this church a “flock,” as a sort of spiritual metaphor. But, sadly, none of them are inside this church today.
SOCRATES: Nor will they be here for sometime, for I see that you are hanging a sign that says “Services Canceled.” Do you agree with the governor, then, that your work as a spiritual shepherd is non-essential?
PASTOR: Certainly not. It is the most essential work of all.
SOCRATES: Then why are you closing the church?
PASTOR: We are not closing it. We are just closing the building. The church exists whenever and wherever the Word of God is preached and the Sacraments are administered.
SOCRATES: If you will not be preaching the Word of God here, then where?
PASTOR: I will continue to preach it here.
SOCRATES: But no one will enter to listen, since the building is closed, so how will your flock be served by your preaching?
PASTOR: They will hear my preaching though a video livestream.
SOCRATES: Do tell more.
PASTOR: My members have machines called computers. Through an invisible WiFi signal, I can send my preaching around the whole world and anyone with a computer can hear my sermons.
SOCRATES: “Computer” in Latin meant “a slave who performs arithmetic,” but it seems your computers are more like remote listening devices. In any case, I’m intrigued most of all by the remoteness of the communication. The invisible is so much more powerful than the visible. Earlier today I learned of the potent dangers of an invisible pestilence called COVID-19. Not only is it transmitted by particles too small to be seen, but most of the people who are sick with it have no visible symptoms. I was distressed to learn about all of that. But now I am comforted to learn that the invisible also can be used for good, for surely it must be a good thing for the Word of God to be transmitted to people around the world by an invisible WiFi signal.
PASTOR: Yes, we are blessed to have a livestreaming ministry.
SOCRATES: And do all members of your church, your entire “flock” as you say, do they all have a device for receiving this livestream?
PASTOR: Sadly, no. Many do, but not all.
SOCRATES: How will you reach the others with the Word of God?
PASTOR: I will visit them in person.
SOCRATES: Does the governor permit this?
PASTOR: For the time being, so long as we do not meet in groups of 10 or larger.
SOCRATES: You also mentioned something about “Sacraments.” There again, a Latin root, “holy things,” roughly, if I understand correctly. Can these be done by WiFi?
PASTOR: No. We have two sacraments. One is called baptism.
SOCRATES: Finally, a Greek root again! This is a holy washing, then?
PASTOR: Exactly. I cannot baptize by WiFi, because baptism involves not only the spoken Word of God but also an earthly element.
SOCRATES: Water, I suppose?
PASTOR: Yes, water, but what at first is just plain water becomes a spiritual washing because of the power of God’s Word. Baptism literally washes away people’s sins and delivers to them God’s forgiving love. It is foundational to my ministry.
SOCRATES: And the other sacrament, for you said there were two?
PASTOR: The Lord’s Supper, also called Holy Communion.
SOCRATES: “Communion,” that’s Latin again.
PASTOR: Or the Eucharist if you prefer.
SOCRATES: From the Greek word meaning “give thanks.” So this sacrament is a prayer of thanksgiving? Why not just pray it over WiFi?
PASTOR: It begins with a prayer of thanksgiving, but it involves more.
SOCRATES: Let me guess: some eating, perhaps also some drinking, for you called it a “supper,” right?
PASTOR: Yes. We eat bread and drink wine.
SOCRATES: I think I understand now. You are closing your church building, but the church itself—the preaching of the Word and the administering of the Sacraments—remains open. You continue to preach via livestream and you can also make home visits for people who do not have WiFi or for people who need baptism.
PASTOR: Exactly! The ministry of Word and God continues!
SOCRATES: And, for the Lord’s Supper, your flock can eat bread and drink wine in their homes when you say the “eucharistic” words—a prayer of thanksgiving—through livestreaming!
PASTOR: No, that cannot work.
SOCRATES: Why not?
PASTOR: Because there is more to the Lord’s Supper that I haven’t taught you. The Lord’s Supper includes words of thanks, but it also includes words of blessing—the “consecration,” if you’ll pardon the Latin term—followed by the distribution and reception of the bread and wine, but no longer as ordinary bread and wine.
SOCRATES: If not ordinary, then extraordinary?
PASTOR: Words can hardly describe! The true body and blood of Jesus Christ become present in the bread and wine—or, “in, with, and under” the bread and wine, as we sometimes say. The point is, this mystery is beyond human comprehension. We trust the plain words of Jesus that His body and His blood are present in the sacrament for us Christians to eat and to drink and that by this very means we receive the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
PASTOR: Or, we might say, “exalted,” for not only is the meaning profound, or deep, but the significance is exalted, the height of our divine service each Sunday.
SOCRATES: But this Sunday you will not gather in the church for this Eucharist of yours?
PASTOR: No. Through private visits, always with fewer than 10 members at a time, I will continue to administer the Sacrament of Holy Communion, but we cannot gather as a congregation, due to the governor’s order.
SOCRATES: I begin to wonder whether you can remain a “congregation,” literally in Latin, “sheep together,” if you are instead spread apart. I wonder whether Holy Communion can remain a “communion,” literally, a uniting of people together, while the governor’s restriction remains.
PASTOR: These are indeed trying times. But you said something insightful. You referred to my people as being “spread apart,” which, since you like archaic languages so much, as is known in Latin as “dispertitio,” hence “dispersion” in English, and in Greek as a “diaspora.” These words are central to our identity as followers of Jesus Christ.
SOCRATES: The one whose body and blood you eat and drink?
PASTOR: Before Jesus was born, the Greek and Roman conquests resulted in the dispersion of those who were eagerly awaiting His birth, people known as Jews. After Jesus rose from the dead, his followers, who soon became known as Christians, also were dispersed, due to persecution in and near Jerusalem. As the Christians spread apart, they found “diasporic” Jews, who earlier had been spread apart. Then the Christians told the Jews that the promised Messiah, whose birth they had been awaiting, had in fact been born—and done far more. Jesus lived a perfect life in our place, died on the cross under the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, and—
SOCRATES: Wait! I think I know. When I was traveling in time from 400 BC to AD 2020, I think I saw this Jesus of whom you speak. It was very confusing at first, but it is starting to come together. Was he born in some sort of stable, with a manger for his crib?
PASTOR: Why, yes!
SOCRATES: And then the king tried to kill him, and in fact did kill many infants in that town, but didn’t his parents flee with him for a time to Egypt?
PASTOR: You do understand.
SOCRATES: His teaching was pure and patient, but also firm. To some He seemed harsh and they walked away discouraged. To others He seemed loving, and they adored Him above all others. At first I could hardly believe He was the same man in both cases. But then I realized how consistent He was, and how inconsistent they were. I always look for patterns. I always seek the truth. I want to grasp the major premise that partakes of that which is universal. In the teaching and preaching of Jesus, I have concluded the universal must be this: that no one but Him can be righteous by his or her own works, and therefore those who think they can be righteous on their own will be frustrated by Him, while those who know they cannot be righteous on their own will be grateful to Him, since what He offers is forgiveness. Sadly, those who do not think they need any forgiveness, reject that gift and therefore they reject the Giver, Jesus. Gladly, those who realize they need forgiveness have, as it were, already received it without trying, simply while trusting Jesus, and naturally they thank Him for it.
PASTOR: Euchariste! Give thanks. For God is good.
SOCRATES: “And His mercy endures forever.” I read that in your Scriptures during my time travel. If that is true, then the governor’s order will not end the church, because no governor’s order can put an end to Jesus.
PASTOR: You said, “If that is true…”?
SOCRATES: Yes, because the the truth of the second claim—the “apodosis,” if you’ll pardon my Greek—depends upon the truth of the first claim—the “protasis,” in Greek. What do you call those “if … ” and “then … ” claims in English?
PASTOR: We use the Latin terms: “antecedent” and “consequent.” We have no English words, which is part of the problem. Hardly anyone thinks logically today, because their language—unlike ancient Greek and Latin—lacks even the vocabulary for expressing logic to its fullest significance. In fact, if more people thought as clearly as you, my work of evangelism would go a lot more smoothly.
SOCRATES: Evangelism! Why, thank you for that Greek term! You mean to proclaim good news, do you?
PASTOR: Yes, and we were nearly there. You said that if God’s mercy endures forever, then the governor’s order will not end the church.
SOCRATES: Quite right. The first claim about God’s mercy leads naturally into the second claim about the governor’s order, for God is by definition almighty and ever-present, which means His mercy is not partial but entire, which means that if His mercy exists at all, then surely there is enough mercy to overcome any restriction that a governor may try to place upon the church.
PASTOR: God also is by definition eternal.
SOCRATES: In that case, the Scriptures are correct to say that “His mercy endures forever.”
PASTOR: Yes, and this is true despite the fact that there was once a governor who ordered Jesus dead, and indeed had Him put to death.
SOCRATES: Pontius Pilate. That’s an indisputable fact. It’s in your Scriptures, but also in some Roman and Jewish records from that time, too.
PASTOR: And what happened three days later?
SOCRATES: The Gospels, indeed, the entire New Testament, affirms that He rose from the dead, that He came back to life, that He was witnessed to be alive, firsthand by hundreds of people.
PASTOR: Are those the only sources to say so?
SOCRATES: No. Jewish and Roman historical texts corroborate the basic facts, too, even though some of those were written by enemies of the church. Plus, what you Christians call the Old Testament or what the Jews call their Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings, also make some interesting claims about resurrection. I read most of this during my time travel. Several resurrections are reported in the Old Testament, plus there are promises that when the Messiah comes, He will be put to death but rise back to life.
PASTOR: And have you figured out who that Messiah was?
SOCRATES: The apostles, as recorded in the Book of Acts, concluded that Jesus was the Messiah. Prophecy after prophecy after prophecy in the Old Testament was fulfilled by Jesus, including most notably His death and resurrection.
PASTOR: Is their reasoning convincing?
SOCRATES: No, but it should be.
PASTOR: What do you mean?
SOCRATES: Ideally, human opinions would approach true knowledge. In my experience, however, most people cling to ideas that are not known to be true and even to ideas that are known most certainly to be false. There is something peculiarly stubborn about the human mind in this regard. Take the COVID-19 pandemic, for example. I am saddened to know that some 200,000 people have the disease and that some 10,000 have died from it. But I do not understand why some people make their knuckles bleed in order to avoid getting it or why other people call it a pandemic disease when 99.9975% of the population has not yet contracted it. I hope that the governor’s order for everyone to stay home will protect them from the polluted air that their neighbors might be exhaling. But I do not know for sure how dangerous this disease is or how likely it is that anything the government is doing or the hospital is doing will help. Come to think of it, you are the first person I have met who makes sense to me, although I was confused also by you at first.
PASTOR: Because I was closing my church building even while opening my church?
SOCRATES: Yes, and because of the Eucharist especially.
PASTOR: But now?
SOCRATES: It makes a lot more sense. A very reasonable case can be made that Jesus lived, died, and rose again. A man who can do that can, as far as my human reason will reach, likely do other amazing things, too. If He says that His body and blood somehow are present in the Lord’s Supper, and that somehow this “Holy Communion” distributes His gifts of forgiveness, new life, and eternal salvation, then I have trouble thinking of a good counter-argument. The New Testament reveals Him to be God, not just a god, but the God. The Old Testament, in a way, says the same thing, doesn’t it?
PASTOR: It does.
SOCRATES: So Christians, then, must be the best of philosophers. The pursuit of wisdom reaches its destination in Jesus Christ, doesn’t it?
PASTOR: Or shall we rather say that the pursuit of Jesus’ love reaches its destination in us?
SOCRATES: And this love endures forever, no matter whether the so-called “pandemic” becomes a genuine, literal pandemic—100%, “all people,” infected?
PASTOR: If the whole world should die of COVID-19, that would not negate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, or the promise received through Word and Sacrament that in Him we have eternal life.
SOCRATES: Because just as He rose from the dead, so shall all who trust in Him join Him in the resurrection on the last day?
PASTOR: One would be a fool to dispute that, which means that we both are correct: The pursuit of wisdom reaches its destination in Jesus Christ, precisely because the pursuit of Jesus’ love has reached its destination in us.
SOCRATES: And not even COVID-19 can change that?
PASTOR: “Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.”(Romans 8:39)
SOCRATES: Finally, I have found a person who knows something.
PASTOR: Because I know Someone, the One. And don’t you now, too?
PASTOR: That’s a Hebrew word for truth—and it means the same thing in Greek, Latin, and English.
SOCRATES: Because it honors Jesus, He who is the universal Good, True, and Beautiful.
PASTOR: Why are you leaving so suddenly?
SOCRATES: Because there’s a shopper, a cart man, a nurse, and a clerk who still have so much to learn.
But before the pastor can say it, Socrates has already left, and where he goes, the church comes with him—dispersed, and growing.
Dr. Ryan C. MacPherson is the founding president of Into Your Hands LLC and the author of several books, including Rediscovering the American Republic (2 vols.) and Debating Evolution before Darwinism. He lives with his wife Marie and their homeschooled children in Casper, Wyoming, where he serves as Academic Dean at Luther Classical College. He previously taught American history, history of science, and bioethics at Bethany Lutheran College, 2003–2023 He also serves as President of the Hausvater Project, which mentors Christian parents. For more information, visit www.ryancmacpherson.com.