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“This is different”

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

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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!”

Joel Belz

Joel Belz (1941–2024) was WORLD’s founder and a regular contributor of commentary for WORLD Magazine and WORLD Radio. He served as editor, publisher, and CEO for more than three decades at WORLD and was the author of Consider These Things. Visit WORLD’s memorial tribute page.


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