If only we can be released from lockdown, we imagine, there is a normal to which we will return, simply getting out and about, going to dinner with friends, getting a hair cut, for goodness sakes, planning travel for the summer. For others, of course, it’s sending kids back to school, gathering again with colleagues over good work, heading back to college for face-to-face learning. Our times of isolation are not normal, we tell ourselves. Surely we’ll go back to the old ways. Soon. We hope. Surely.

I’m ready, to be sure, but I’ve been thinking we may never go back, at least not in one important way. I’m not just talking about whether we’ll wear masks forever. No, it’s something deeper. What if we come to see, really see, we have been way too complacent about our own self-sufficiency? Maybe there is no way to protect ourselves from all danger, through science, technology, government, or any other defenses. That might feel frightening, I know, but just maybe it would be liberating. Maybe it’s a new sun just peaking through the gloom.

We now know an assault of a tiny bug invading our systems can kill us, sometimes viciously. It can wipe thousands off the face of the earth. We have come face to face with how frail we really are. We feel suddenly vulnerable. We’re scurrying about trying to fix things, trying to bring back our confidence that we’ve got things under control, but we have our doubts.

I don’t want to be silly here. Of course we will find solutions, treatments, vaccines, hopefully better functioning systems of health care, maybe better notions of how governments work and don’t work. But I’ve begun to wonder if we will ever rid ourselves of this new vulnerability.

Pretty quickly, for me at least, this all becomes a spiritual matter. My Christian faith tells me I am always vulnerable. It warns me over and over not to rely on myself too much. It tells me that nations should not get cocky. It tells me that plagues will always come. It tells me that heartache is part of living. It tells me I am weak. It tells me I can find new strength in vulnerability. It tells me, in fact, that humility is far better than arrogance, that pride always precedes a crash.

We’ve been hard at work for centuries trying to tell ourselves we are invulnerable. At times we’ve allowed this confidence to morph into arrogance. We can make it without dependence on anyone, including God. We believe in absolute progress, since way back into the eighteenth century. We are making progress on all fronts, we remind ourselves continually. The human race continues to evolve positively.

But, really, we have not come close to eradicating devastating poverty, the scourge of homelessness, addiction, suicide, abject loneliness. We can’t seem to locate the common good anymore and find ourselves dangerously divided. We have lost all sense of decent civility. We have lost our deepest commitments to the sanctity of life. We have lost any assurance that life has meaning and purpose and direction. And now we face the power of this tiny bug, snuffing out so many lives and destroying the order of a functioning society.

Sounds pretty gloomy, I know. But think about it. Self-sufficiency? Really? Our confidence is shaken right now. But history reminds us that something like these tiny bugs will always invade our fragile lives. That has been the norm forever. Don’t we want, then, a deeper, more lasting certainty?

G. K. Chesterton once said about the towering thirteenth-century theologian Thomas Aquinas that he stood up against the intellectual currents of his day and declared

that life is a living story, with a great beginning and a great close; rooted in the primeval joy of God and finding its fruition in the final happiness of humanity; opening the colossal chorus in which the sons [and daughters] of God shouted for joy. . . .

Shaken to the core by new uncertainty, isn’t this the big story we are longing for? Despite all the tragic bumps along the way, this story finds its deep roots in the “primeval joy of God.” And the goal this God has for his precious children is “the final happiness of humanity.” What if that story became a new normal in this moment of terrifying uncertainty? We might just break out in a mighty chorus, all of us singing for joy, all of us pointing to a new sun rising on the horizon.