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"Solidarity" and "Resilience"
By Rev Dr Li, Hau-tiong
Advisor for Community Outreach Ministry

May 2020

The Reality of Suffering

COVID-19, the novel coronavirus has been spreading since the end of 2019 to the first half of 2020, causing much damage throughout the world. To-date (as of May), human beings are still waiting for healing in darkness and fear, yearning for a liberating light. The immediate impact brought upon by this virus includes a threat to human life, limitation to living space, alienation of social interaction and declining economic development, etc. Governments and people all over the world are working together to find solutions to overcome these difficulties.

For the Christian churches, having experienced an unforgettable Lent, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday; we are better able to comprehend the suffering on the Cross and the anticipation of freedom in the Resurrection. The current disaster is not only a time for us to pray in unity to the Creator for mercy and salvation, but also a time for us to turn back, reflect and repent before God. It may also be an opportunity for us to commit ourselves again to bear witness to the Christian faith and the power of the gospel.

When disaster strikes, most people would want to investigate the cause of its occurrence; often, various religious groups would also put forward their responses according to their beliefs. On September 21, 1999, a 7.3 magnitude earthquake struck Central Taiwan, causing 2,415 deaths and 11,305 injuries; the whole region was shrouded in the shadow of death and despair. At that time, some Taiwanese Christian groups came up with "Condemnation" theory, saying that it was due to the proliferation of pornographic culture in that area so God handed down a disaster to warn the world. On the other hand, Buddhist Abbot Shengyan proposed a theory of "Substitution and Redemption": These victims were great bodhisattvas...who withstood the disaster on behalf of the 22 million Taiwanese. Even though both theories had good intentions, the latter was better able to comfort the families of the victims and inspire people everywhere to participate in post-disaster reconstruction work, resulting in many stories of helping and caring for one another, contributing to the shaping of solidarity and resilience in the Taiwanese society.

"Crisis" is the moment when danger meets opportunity. The core of the Christian faith is the Cross and the Resurrection; death is danger, resurrection is opportunity; death is despair, resurrection is hope; death is the severance of relationship (with God, others and the creation), resurrection is the rebuilding of relationships; death is fear, resurrection is peace. When faced with the crisis of the COVID-19 virus, Christians must return to the Christian faith to find a way to cope through Jesus' revelation and God's compassion.

The Compassionate God

In suffering, human being's natural response is often to seek help from the divine; Christians are no exception. We trust that God is a compassionate God, the Bible repeatedly affirms that compassion is an attribute of God; it is further reinforced by our proclamation through prayers in the church. However, what is the meaning of "compassion"? How does it relate to our suffering? How can it help us get out of our predicament? Marcus J. Borg mentioned in "Speaking Christian" that the original meaning of the word "compassion" in Hebrew was "uterus", with the essence of life-giving, nourishing embrace and surrounding; In English, "compassion" encompasses the meaning of "sympathy" and "empathy". In other words, the God we believe in is not only the Creator of life, but also a God who is full of love and care, and he walks with us, empathizes and sympathizes with us. He will not stand idly by but he will save, not because of anyone's transgression, but out of His compassionate nature.

The Bible also tells us that God created men and women in His own image (Gen. 1:27), so human beings have the nature of God's "compassion" and "solidarity". In times of troubles, we can support one another and overcome hardships together. Therefore, when Christians pray for God's mercy, on the one hand, we can be sure that God's grace is with us; on the other, the church should act to witness God's compassionate nature so as to instill a sense of solidarity among people all over the world.

The Mission of Jesus

In the Lectionary of Year 2020, the story about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus has reference to the scriptures in the Gospel of John. "Incarnation" is the opening theme of the Gospel of John. The content describes the ministry (WORK) and teaching (WORD) which Jesus did on earth. In conclusion, the author tells us that the purpose of writing this book is to help us believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing in Him, we may have life in His name. (Jn. 20:31)

The Gospel of John repeatedly talks about "life" and "eternal life". Jesus also said: He has come so that people may have life, and have it to the full. (10:10) In other words, the purpose of Jesus' incarnation, work, teaching, crucifixion, resurrection and ascension is to give people "life". Nonetheless, what is the life Jesus wants us to have? Is it a life that will never die? Is it a life with no shortage of material needs? Or a life which is successful and prosperous? How does this life relate to the current COVID-19 virus?

It was mentioned in the story of Jesus' miraculous raising of Lazarus: "I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; ..." (Jn. 11:25). This passage tells us that the resurrection, life and Jesus are linked together. In other words, to explore the meaning of "life" as mentioned above, we need to understand the connotation of Jesus and His resurrection. "Jesus" is the Christ, the Son of God. "Christ" is the Messiah, the Anointed, the liberator established by God; the Son of God is united with God Himself and bears His attributes (compassion). "Resurrection" is opposite to death.

In the Bible, death is the severance of relationship between man and God. Genesis records that Jehovah told the man: "but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die!" (2:17) The ancestors eventually went against the command of God and ate the fruit and were cast out of paradise, thus severing the harmonious relationship with God. Paul ever mentioned: "For the wages of sin is death..." (Rom. 6:23) And "sin" means that the goal of human life deviates from God's and thus cannot be reconciled to Him. The resurrection of Jesus paved the way for a reconciled relationship between man and God. Therefore, the meaning of "life" is to have a connected relationship with God (and His creation) and to be connected with the mission of Christ. It is a kind of vitality with "resilience" enough to overcome death, with strength, hope, peace and a mission. We are convinced that through faith in Christ, Christians and the Church already have this tenacious vitality. Christians must live out their lives in this way, and the Church must witness and preach this gospel of "life".

Our Witnesses

When faced with the threat of the disaster of the century and the restraints of practical measures, people's fear, restlessness, helplessness and anxiety ... are inevitable. However, no matter how long this period is going to last, it is but a part of our lives. For Christians, life is a gift entrusted by God. As individuals, believers should reflect on our faith amidst this difficult situation (through reading and devotion), readjust and restore our relationship with God, strengthen our resilience in life (body, mind and soul alike) and reconcile our relationship with God's family as well as all creations, so as to establish a friendship in "solidarity", sympathizing, empathizing and walking with those who are suffering. As a church community, the belief in our faith, the strategy of our missions and the plans of our activities driven through a missionary movement of "solidarity" and "resilience" might serve as preparatory work for an upcoming post COVID-19 era. For example, the facilitation of a "Simple Life" movement. "Universality" (oikoumene) is the solidarity in God's family (and all creations). Economy (oikonomia) is the sustainability and maintenance of God's family. Ecology (oikologia) is the inter-relationship in God's family. The three Greek words are derived from the same root oikos "family" and they are inseparable. The purpose of the "Simple Life Movement" proposed by contemporary theologists is to establish unity and sustainable management in God's family. The current situation in the world forces us to experience this kind of life. We may not be accustomed to it, but it may be a way that is in line with God's will and beneficial to the world. With regard to the other issues such as "artificial intelligence" and "community building", etc., the church community should brainstorm for ideas and undertake our common mission together - to be witnesses for God.

Rev Dr Li Hau Tiong is the new Advisor for the Community Outreach Ministry of The Presbyterian Church in Singapore (PCS), and Guest Lecturer at Trinity Theological College.

Through CWM's Partner in Mission programme and The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT), PCS invited Rev Li to support in community outreach and set up a theological structure for local church community work. Rev Li has extensive experience in community care work, having taught relevant courses at Tainan Theological College and Seminary, and served as the chairman of the Taiwan Association of Community Advancement.


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