Everyone’s talking about a “new normal” when the coronavirus saga is over. But that makes me wonder, so what was the “old normal”? What did we believe in and rely on that we shouldn’t any more?
In striking us hard, COVID-19 has done us one favour—it has revealed many of our vulnerabilities and beliefs that we had held on dearly to as individuals, as Singaporeans, and as Christians. Perhaps it’s worth taking a bit of time to look at some of the “idols” we need to discard when it’s all over.
Or: “The church is about the worship service.”
For some of us, the idea of church—and possibly, the Christian faith—has tended to revolve around our Sunday worship services. “The service makes the church,” we think, “so as long as I attend the Sunday service faithfully, I’ll be fine.”
If that were true, then the church would have died two months ago, when all religious services were stopped. And so would our faith. But they didn’t, because we discovered that there were other things that mattered. Calling up our brothers and sisters-in-Christ to see how they were, helping them with errands where needed, meeting up on Zoom, doing Bible study and praying together—these made the church as much as attending service every Sunday did.
This is not to say that the worship service isn’t important; it is a significant part of our communal worship. But it’s just one of the many elements of what the body of Christ does.
In urging the church to continue doing what it was meant to, the writer of Hebrews 10:24-25 notably made the call a multi-dimensional one: “Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Or: “Life will always go back to normal eventually.”
Some of us (I confess to being one of these) like to hold on to the belief that someday, everything will work out. The crisis will eventually pass, sun will shine again, the flowers will bloom, and life will go back to normal. Then we can go back to our routines and schedules.
Except that . . . it doesn’t always. Remember how September 11, 2001, changed the face of security forever? Just think about the security checks at the airport. The fact is, life is as tenuous as the writer of Ecclesiastes says in 9:12, “No one knows when their hour will come.”
Positive thinking based on sheer, empty hope is pointless. The truth is, life will always be unstable and transient. The only thing that offers real stability is God, of whom we can say:
He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust. (Psalm 91:2)
Or: “I don’t need others. As long as I can do what’s needed, I’ll be fine.”
Covid-19 has shown that at some point, our wealth, abilities, intellect, and skills are just not enough to pull us out of a dire situation. Ultimately, we will need help from other people. If you had been quarantined at home and the online shops were too busy to deliver or ran out of stock, you would have needed someone to help you buy groceries. And toilet paper.
The coronavirus also showed us that none of us can operate as individuals. Whether restrictions could be lifted or not, did not just depend on whether you or I obeyed the rules faithfully; the entire community had to cooperate, or all would suffer. It reminded me of my experience in National Service, when the entire platoon would be punished if just one person messed up.
Ultimately, living in a community, we need others. As Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 puts it simply:
Two are better than one . . . if either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
Or: “I don’t need to help others, I’m sure they’re okay.”
. . . Except that they weren’t. Covid-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities and needs of many. Elderly folks who seemed to be generally okay before had problems buying groceries at the shops because of the restrictions, or were left isolated and depressed at home because they lacked the technical know-how to go onto Zoom to stay in touch with others.
Workers like cleaners, drivers, and sales and shop assistants suffered because they were the first to receive pay cuts or be retrenched as businesses ceased operations. We also saw the plight of the migrant workers confined to their dormitories.
Many individuals did not know of the help that was made available or had no access. This was a time that called for those of us who were able to, to reach out and help, one by one. Philippians 2:3-4 urges us:
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Or: “We don’t have to worry as long as we have wealth and the ability to sort things out in Singapore.”
Our nation has indeed been blessed with wealth, established institutions and systems, and capable people to ensure that things will always be sorted out properly. Yet, for some time, Singapore was registering one of the highest rates of infection in the region. Though some may argue that the high numbers were due to diligent testing, nonetheless the rapid spread of the coronavirus showed us that we could be as vulnerable as any poor, ill-equipped nation out there.
Much as we take pride in our national strength, resilience, and abilities (and they are indeed worthy to be proud of), the truth is, these will not provide everlasting security. The only true source of security is God:
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. (Psalm 18:2)
Don’t Go Back to the “Old Normal”!
I find modern-day idols especially beguiling, because they are so subtle. Even what is good or seems to be a “Christian” practice can become an idol, if we start giving it more prominence and importance than it should deserve.
And so, as I look forward to life returning to “normal” after Covid-19, I keep reminding myself not to go back to the “old” normal, with its idols of misplaced trust in the things of men and of the world. Instead, I pray, may I learn to place all my hopes, security, and confidence in the things of God. In this “new normal”, I will:
- Remember that “church” is about fellow believers, and not about the worship service.
- Remember that things may not always work out. The only hope we can hold on to is that from God.
- Stop thinking I can do everything, and remember that we depend on one another.
- Look out and care for others, even those who seem to be doing “okay”.
- Look to God for true security, and not to my own or my country’s abilities.