When We Can’t Be with Our Loved-Ones

Associate Professor of Biblical Studies (New Testament)

What COVID-19 has done to the families is unbelievable and unprecedented. Families that have sent off their sons and daughters to foreign countries to study or work are now anxiously waiting for them to return home. When they arrive, they are isolated in a room for another 14 days! We can’t shake their hands, hug them, kiss them, or eat with them. Isolated and bored, they pray that they don’t bring this cruel virus from a foreign land into their living rooms.

Others have parents, sons, daughters, and relatives overseas—whom they can’t see for weeks or months. My pastor’s ninety-year old step-father is in hospice care and can pass on to eternity any day, but he can’t go and be with him. Foreigners, like me, left my family overseas and came to Singapore; locals like you sent them off to work or study—both of us thinking that we can get in a plane any day to be with them or that they can fly home anytime we want them to return. We promised them, “Just call me—I’ll be there for you or I’ll fly you home.” But now, we can’t even fulfill that simple promise. Countries are closing their borders one-by-one; flights we once thought were as steady as the air we breathe have ground to a halt.

I am a father of three sons who live overseas in two different countries. So, I worry, fear, and wonder, “Will I ever get to see them again?” My wife and I can’t stop ourselves from calling them, wanting to talk to them, or see their faces through any media. We ache and grieve thinking of them. But, we also have hope.

One is my favorite movies is Fiddler on the Roof, a musical based on the story, Tevye and His Daughters, by Sholem Aleichem. In one scene, Tevya’s second daughter is leaving the family and going off to Siberia with her husband, a far-off place. As they stand face to face, saying “goodbyes,” the daughter says, “Papa, God alone knows when we’ll see each other again.” The father sighs and says, “Then we shall leave it in his hands.”

If there is one message consistent throughout the Scripture, it is the message of separation or exile. Some separations were initiated by sin: Adam and Eve being chased away from Eden because of disobedience, Jacob running away from his parent’s home after cheating his brother of the birthright, and Israel going into exile. Some separations were by someone else’s decision: Naomi in Moab’s land because of her husband’s decision or David in the wilderness because of Saul’s vengeance against him. Some separations, however, were for a blessing: Abraham leaving Ur and following God or Israel leaving Egyptians and entering the land.

The greatest separation, however, is the one recorded in the New Testament—that of our Lord Jesus leaving his Father’s house to be with the earthlings. John writes, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14a).1 Paul writes, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing . . . and being found in appearance as a man” (Philippians 2:6–8). He left his Father’s house and travelled to a far-off place for a purpose. The writer of Hebrews says, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).

Becoming human, however, wasn’t the greatest of his separation. His suffering and death on the cross were! So, on the night of his separation he cried to the Father three times, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me” (Luke 22:42a). The Father remained quiet. Then on the cross, he cried again, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachtani? . . . My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Again the Father seemed quiet, as if he turned away his face from his son and didn’t care. But the Son entrusted his life in the hands of his father.

On the third day, the Father answered with resurrection. As David predicted, he didn’t abandon the Son to the realm of the dead, nor did he let the holy one see decay” (Psalm 16:10).

As we grieve over the separation from our loved ones, let’s trust them in the Father’s hands. “God alone knows when we’ll see each other again . . . [so] . . . we shall leave it in his hands.” God can protect them. We are helpless and sad, but we are not without hope.

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