One of the matters I have had cause to reflect upon much over the past few years is the subject of public health. If in general we have known a great deal of progress in private health over the past few decades–although not as much as we might hope or expect–we have made no progress at all in public health for a long time. The public health principles of the Bible–investigation of causes, quarantine, isolation of those with contagious disease, and the like–are precisely the same principles that are in operation today, no more effectively than they were before. Why is this the case?
By and large, public health is reactive. While sick people are individuals, public health is interested in the risk or exposure to populations as a whole. Sick people do not always restrain themselves from exposing those around them to disease, and governments are prone to overreach in the attempt to protect populations from disease. If either people or governments would be responsible, we might be able to deal with the sorts of risks that infectious disease presents, but since neither is the case, we tend to have to muddle through being exposed to more than we might wish and being exposed to more opportunity cost in a loss of freedom than we might wish. In a fallen world full of sickness and depravity, people cannot live life without risks and costs, and there exists a wide degree of difference about what costs are to be recognized and how they are to be dealt with. None of these aspects are in any way conducive to a great deal of progress, as they relate to fundamental problems of the human condition.
These dilemmas hit us differently depending on the places we stand in various institutions. For example, as I type this I am listening to a sermon while sitting in my hotel room because Covid cases have hit the Feast site we attend–though thankfully not many. The desire to minimize risk and keep people as safe as possible commensurate with the risk that comes in being close together as we are has led us to have several days of remote services piped through the sound system of our hotel. Yesterday, thankfully, we were able to meet together in person before we had some more cases that ended up canceling choir. Not everyone has the same degree of risk tolerance that I have, for example, and yet we all have to dwell together in peace and understandings. The dilemmas that result from these sorts of things do not seem like they are prone to be solved easily.