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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

“This is different”

We haven’t before faced the challenges we’ll see after the COVID-19 shutdown

If I’ve asked a dozen people, I’ve asked a hundred. “So what,” I inquire again and again, “does this current crisis remind you of? The recession of 2008? Sept. 11? The Kennedy assassination?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all. This is so totally different.” 

And the response has been unanimous. Even a few of my oldest respondents—maybe in their 80s and 90s, and old enough to remember the Great Depression or World War II—join the chorus. “This is radically different,” they say. “This is profoundly different.”

What makes them think that? 

Try this explanation. These folks are joined in their response because they sense how widespread, deep, and pervasive the destruction is. They sense—intuitively at first, but accurately nonetheless—the enormity of the rebuilding task when this is all over.

An artfully written essay called “I, Pencil” circulated many years ago highlighting the genius of the common office pencil. The writer skillfully showed how raw products like wood, graphite, rubber, tin, glue, and paint all found their ways from various continents to a common destination. There those components were assembled into a tool so simple and economical it was typically handed out as a freebie.

Don’t be surprised this fall if you hear of permanent closures by some schools.

They did this with no overall master plan, task force, or huge governmental directive. But the historical development of something so simple as an office pencil still took several centuries. And if you obliterate the infrastructure necessary to bring all the physical components together, the recovery route even for simple species like pencils becomes daunting indeed. Most components of our culture, of course, are radically more complex.

That’s why folks tend to be unanimous when they say, “This is different.” And it’s why Americans—and especially Americans who are Christians—need to be preparing to spend all kinds of “This is different” energy in the extended recovery that looms on the horizon. That recovery involves our businesses, of course. But perhaps more importantly, it will involve our churches, our educational enterprises, our missions and benevolences, and hundreds of other fronts we’ve barely thought of.

Our churches will need to be rebuilt. Never in our nation’s history has the Church at large been compelled to put on a disappearing act first for several weeks, and now stretching into months. What makes us think that we’ll come through that aberration unscathed? It’s not primarily that millions of dollars’ worth of pews and buildings lie empty every week. More disturbing are reports from significant and once-healthy churches that only a fraction of members are now taking advantage of live-streaming worship, while tithes and offerings are slipping. Will our churches rediscover their true Biblical mission of making and training disciples?

Our schools will need emergency aid. The transition this spring for many Christian schools, colleges, and even seminaries—shutting down their campuses for the last half of the spring semester and taking their teaching faculties online—has been costly and unsettling. Thousands of Christian families will be reexamining their commitments at several levels. Don’t be surprised this fall if you hear of permanent closures by some schools.

We’ll all need to rethink what role leisure time and leisure dollars play in our scheme of things. If our institutions are likely to need extra fuel for their depleted tanks later this year, it’s all but certain that we’ll find ourselves close to needy families or individuals who are newly unemployed or otherwise stressed. Is this a unique opportunity for some of the rest of us to consider reallocating some of what we spent last year on our own travel, recreation, or other leisure or activity?

I’ve just about worn out the ? key on my little laptop. It’s not for me to propose specifics for WORLD readers and listeners—and my wife Carol Esther and I have to discuss a bit more what our part should be. But none of us dare fall back to what we did last year. The devastation is just too extensive.

Remember: “This is different!” 

Comments

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  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Thu, 04/09/2020 02:33 am

    If the President knew that the death rate would be no worse than a serious flu, would he have taken the drastic measures of shutting down our economy like he has? I am sure the safety measures have contributed to the low numbers, but how much worse is Sweden who didn't shut down their economy? Surprisingly they are #20 on the list and they didn't shut down their economy and the people kept mixing!   So exactly why are we shutting down our economy? Would it not be wiser to quickly open our economy up and start working again? Why listen to the liberal MSM with their only goal of bringing down our President. Our objective should be to open up the schools and jobs and get everyone working again and not making this as SO different! 

  • RC
    Posted: Thu, 04/09/2020 11:37 am

    I think one point of this article is that, because this crisis is so different, we are struggling with how to respond. As you will recall the president was really down playing it, then totally changed direction with massive causality predictions.  Right now, the hospitals in New York are being blasted with overcrowding, running short of supplies and medical personnel getting sick left and right.  With all that you think we should not be practicing social isolation, even in light of the economic damage?

    We may be over doing it, but how do we weight the loss of life cost against the economic cost?  The economy can recover, dead people cannot.    

    I am willing to bet that the sooner we slow the spread the soon it will be over and the soon we will get back to business as usually, and hopefully a little wiser, and more appreciative of the fact that we should leave God in control, as humanity does a great job of messing everything up.          

  • Big Jim
    Posted: Thu, 04/09/2020 01:50 pm

    RC-

    "We may be over doing it, but how do we weight the loss of life cost against the economic cost?  The economy can recover, dead people cannot."

    That's true but society makes trade-off choices like that all the time. For instance, if we made the speed limit 5 mph on all roads everywhere in America we would eliminate virtually all traffic deaths in our country - saving almost 40,000 lives a year. But we as a people have made a "choice" to trade ~40,000 lives a year for higher speed limits.

    I have noticed that people whose "economy" has not been drastically affected (like two of my sisters who have govt pensions) are more inclined to support virtual lockdowns as opposed to people such as myself that operate a small business and are being economically devastated.

    Tough choices.

  • Adam Rodriguez
    Posted: Thu, 04/16/2020 11:41 am

    "More disturbing are reports from significant and once-healthy churches that only a fraction of members are now taking advantage of live-streaming worship, while tithes and offerings are slipping."

    It seems like this virus and the shutdowns are separating wheat from tares. Though I feel for the churches struggling with this. Hopefully this just makes them stronger in the end.