New situations call for new terminology. “Social distancing” was first coined in 2003, but it is now firmly rooted in the cultural vernacular.
Social interaction and interdependence is not the product of cultural evolution; God made us this way. Adam and Eve were not created as independent nomads to intersect only for procreation. Rather, “it is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him” (Gen. 2:18). Eve is thus made for Adam as a wife and companion, and Adam also has duties and responsibilities toward Eve. Thus begins the first cohesive collective unit – the family.
But God incorporated a form of social distancing in that “a man is to leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). There is not to be abandonment of parents, but the original nuclear arrangement gives way to independent sovereignty in marriage and the newly created family.
God imposed the first punitive social distancing after Cain slew Abel. Along with other curses: “A fugitive and a vagabond you shall be on the earth” (Gen. 4:12). Cain’s response: “My punishment is greater than I can bear!” (Gen. 4:13). Separation was a horrendous consequence for the murder of his brother.
Perhaps the most radical form of quarantine imposed by God upon mankind was the flood wherein eight people were cut off from the rest of humanity. “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Thus God declared man unredeemable and destroyed all human life except Noah and his family. How difficult it must have been for them when they exited the ark to a world devoid of extended family, friends and town folk.
Another extreme social distancing event happens in Genesis 11, where the post-flood society defies God’s plans and undertakes the construction of the tower of Babel: “Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth” (11:4). God distances man from one another by the confusion of language, and their separation spawned the various global cultures we see today.
Proper social cohesion is good and intended by God in families, societies and local churches. Our interactions enhance our strength, education, survival and overall advancement. But the good purposes of togetherness are compromised by evil. There is a general qualitative difference between life in a large city and a rural setting. Yes, evil and crime happen everywhere, but it is concentrated and self-replicating on a larger scale in highly urban areas.
We are now in a condition of forced social distancing due to the coronavirus. This is good for the treatment of a pandemic, but it is bad for spiritual morale. May we remain close in spirit even if separated by proximity and circumstance.