I recently took up painting. It’s teaching me to appreciate the beauty in seemingly ordinary things. I find myself so intently focused on the subject, and so far removed from other distractions, that I notice details I’d never previously taken the time to see. It’s a little like continually repeating a word – eventually the word takes on a different form that is somehow less familiar. It can then be experienced as if hearing it for the first time. Ask me to describe the beauty of an apple before sitting down to paint it and my brain would struggle to find one positive thing to say. But ask me after six hours of meticulously transcribing every contour and freckle and mixing infinite shades of red, brown and green and my answer would be very different.
As an Economist, I spend a lot of my day measuring things. An economist will describe a country’s welfare using its level of GDP – a measure of everything its population managed to produce over a unit of time. If we are producing more, there is more for us to enjoy, adding to our state of wellbeing.
We are aware that this falls short of a complete measure of welfare. Like the beauty of an apple depending on the depth of our perception, welfare is difficult to measure and largely depends on how we choose to interpret our circumstances.
There is a large amount of suffering going on in the world right now. We measure it and report it for the world to see every day. At the time of writing there have been almost 3 million deaths due to Covid-19 worldwide. It can all feel overwhelming.
One thing that has brought me comfort is the knowledge that we cannot measure the impact of all of this by deaths alone. I do not wish to undermine the pain and suffering that this death toll has brought about. But we should celebrate the heroism displayed by the medical community and the intelligence in developing multiple vaccines in a very short space of time. We should reflect on the incredible togetherness and resolve that our communities have demonstrated. I understand now, more than ever, that there is a deep seeded need for community that God has built into us all. What an amazing thing to reflect on. The impact of this pandemic cannot be summarised solely by a death toll.
I think God’s justice works in a way that we cannot measure too. We speculate on justice based on what we think a person deserves. The injustice of a life cut short, not lived to its full potential, struck down and inflicted – I think of Stephen in the Book of Acts.
God doesn’t use our narrow-minded measures of beauty, welfare or justice yet he is wholly just. He loves us deeply and we are asked to trust in him with a childlike faith. Although we can’t measure it, we should take comfort in the knowledge that there is more going on behind the suffering and injustices that we so frequently try to measure.
Peace and love,