28 Mar GS Letter Mar 2020
Much has been written on Covid-19. Scientists attempt to trace the origin of the virus, medical researchers try to understand its genome in order to accelerate the vaccine production, and public health authorities write extensive guidelines and regulations on how to prevent the exponential spread of the virus in one community, including border controls and quarantine orders.
Christians from all areas of life, theologians or people on the street, also jump on the bandwagon. Some reflections exhort us to stay calm and take refuge in God. Some read accounts on how the ancient churches responded to the plagues in history or look at what past Christian leaders have suggested on how to live Christianly during the plagues. Few even claim that the outbreak is God’s judgment on humankind or is a sign of impending doomsday.
I acknowledge, with exception of the latter few, the above writings have some merits. However, one article, written by a secular historian and philosopher, Yuval Noah Harari, and, recently published in Time magazine, set me thinking beyond the current bleak situation. He argues that in the current battle against Covid-19, humanity lacks trust and leadership (https://time.com/5803225/yuval-noah-harari-coronavirus-humanity-leadership). Below, I quote some snippets of his writings:
Today humanity faces an acute crisis not only due to the coronavirus, but also due to the lack of trust between humans. To defeat an epidemic, people need to trust scientific experts, citizens need to trust public authorities, and countries need to trust each another. Over the last few years, irresponsible politicians have deliberately undermined trust in science, in public authorities and in international cooperation. As a result, we are now facing this crisis bereft of global leaders that can inspire, organize and finance a coordinated global response….
… Just the opposite. Xenophobia, isolationism and distrust now characterize most of the international system. Without trust and global solidarity, we will not be able to stop the coronavirus epidemic…. Hopefully the current epidemic will help humankind realize the acute danger posed by global disunity….
… In this moment of crisis, the crucial struggle takes place within humanity itself. If this epidemic results in greater disunity and mistrust among humans, it will be the virus’s greatest victory. When humans squabble – viruses double. In contrast, if the epidemic results in closer global cooperation, it will be a victory not only against the coronavirus, but against all future pathogens.
What Harari contends above is apt for us, as a Christian fellowship. Eventually, the panic will subside, and the outbreak will be over. At that time, what kind of people of God will we become? Will we linger in our suspicion and fear of foreigners and the Other in our life? Will we be complacently convenient with our social distancing and self-isolation? Do we stay ignorant of those who are more vulnerable and less privileged, and focus only on self-protection of ourselves and our loved ones? Will Covid-19 break us apart and cause “greater disunity and mistrust” among us?
On the contrary, I am heartened to witness what Singapore churches, as well as our students and graduates, have lived out so far. Many graduates volunteer and rally to support healthcare workers, give goods and helpful services to the vulnerable and less privileged. Instead of mere frustration and feeling lost, our students gather in creative ways (online streaming, small groups, one-to-one) to ensure mutual edification continues despite suspension of campus activities. I am also told that many of their friends, who are not Christians, have begun conversations with them discussing deeper questions on suffering and life, and searching for the Truth. Cooperation and information sharing (like how to conduct online worship services, etc.) among churches have also intensified. I hope the above continues beyond the Covid-19 outbreak period.
Lastly, though I cannot predict how long this outbreak will last, yet, one thing is certain, as Romans 8:22–25 exhorts us, with the whole creation, we are now groaning together in “the pains of childbirth” (v22). And for us, specifically, we groan inwardly as we wait in hope for “the redemption of our bodies” (v.23b). And this hope is unseen, yet if we “hope for what we do not see, we wait for it in patience” (v.25).
Till then, let us wait in solidarity, in hope, and in patience.
In His grace,