Those already in distress because of the COVID-19 crisis now face fresh news with concern. “Experts” are saying that things will never be the same, and we need to adjust to a “new normal”. No one really knows what that looks like, but we imagine face coverings becoming common, hand sanitizer stations in places beyond hospital corridors, and perhaps some kind of ongoing restrictions on public gatherings. The impact has been compared to the changes that became permanent after 9/11, which have become to most of us now both acceptable and mostly comfortable. Our “normal”—and people just want to go back to normal.
Which raises a question about the whole concept of normal. The reality is, change is constant. In the past few years normal has been telephones in our pockets with cameras, internet access, and even the less used ability to talk to someone, always accessible. But go back just 10 years, and that was not normal. Back 20 years and it was only a vision. The dictionary will tell us normal is conforming to a standard or what is common. But in life experience, the truth is, “normal” is what we have become used to, in our very most recent experience. That means usually it has become familiar and thus comfortable—but a time of sudden interruption like a pandemic creates an opportunity to think about that.
Try to think of yourself living in the days of the “Judges” of Israel, during which “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). Read Judges 19-21, a vivid and disgusting picture of what life is like under such conditions. Then remember that we are living in a culture that has largely embraced this very path, and the cultural “normal” has been a rejection of God’s absolute truth (the Bible), departure from his moral laws, and adoption of a concept of truth that actually tells every man that what he thinks is truth is, indeed, truth to him. “Right in his own eyes”. The violence, abuse, and terrible interpersonal behavior evident in Judges lie ahead if we continue on that path.
Whether on a national level or your personal life, is what you have come to understand as normal actually something you want to go back to? Better to evaluate.
For instance, we all know that family life has splintered under the pressure of busy lives—work, school, sports, and other extracurricular activities. Most of that has been interrupted by COVID 19, and it is possible this pandemic has had families sitting together around the dinner table, talking to one another (if they will leave their phones in the other room) more frequently than when life was “normal.” This could be a very good “new normal”, as those who study such matters tell us this family time is one of the best ways to build character into the developing generation. Perhaps a new normal could be an improvement on the old normal!
It is human nature to want to go back to the familiar. One of the most comical illustrations, if not for being so sad, happened in the nation of Israel. God had delivered them from the oppressive life of slavery in Egypt, and as he led them toward the Promised Land he had faithfully provided for them in every way. They got to the very edge of that land, saw its beauty and bounty, but the way in was uncertain. So as they had done before, they wanted to go back to what had been normal for them for 400 years and said to one another, “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Numbers 14:4)! Egypt was their most recent “normal”, and without thinking of the negative realities of that past life, they wanted to go back.
Are you wanting to go back to your Egypt these days? At this moment, as leaders at every level are deciding how to move ahead by lifting restrictions on our social interaction and activities, it is the time to think about what would be the best new normal. Evaluate what was most recently past, recognize it wasn’t “all good”, and prayerfully ask God to help you build a “new normal” that will be better than the past. Make some decisions and commitments now for that future. Plan for a normal that will be better for you, for your family, for the cause of Jesus Christ, and for the glory of God.