Do You Really Want to Go Back to Normal?

Wake up, workout, coffee with quiet time, breakfast and then off to work. Home, supper, then whatever between supper and bedtime. Sleep. 

Wake up and do it all again tomorrow.

It doesn’t sound all that exceptional, but welcome to my life. I would guess my days are not unlike most everybody else’s. Don’t get me wrong, I like my life. Heck, I love my life. I’ve got a great wife, a great kid, we live in a great neighborhood, in a great city, in the heart of Tennessee that’s consistently named as one of the most desirable places to live in the United States. This is our life. This is our normal life. 

But, like everyone else globally, this COVID-19 virus has disrupted all our lives on a massive scale for the foreseeable future. If COVID-19 was an earthquake, we’d say it is registering about 9.0 on the Richter scale.

But what if that’s the point? What if God’s intention in allowing the COVID-19 virus to sweep around the world, massively disrupting everyone’s “normal” lives, is so that we would turn our attention toward Him? What if the helplessness we feel is so that we will acknowledge our comprehensive dependence upon Him, seek Him for salvation, and worship Him as He deserves to be worshipped?

The social isolation has abruptly halted the busyness of my life and created time and mental space to think, and it isn’t always comfortable. I’ve considered whether I idolize my “normal” life. An idol is anything that is loved more than God; that ascribes more value to the object than to the Creator. I do not like disruption, and I’ve said numerous times: “I just want my life back!” Just claiming ownership of my life exposes my faulty thinking. How about you? Do you value the normalcy of your life more than you value God’s providential purposes for disrupting it?

I’ve been acutely aware of James 4:13-16 the past several weeks as I’ve heard everyone from preachers to pundits presume we’ll return to normal. James writes, Look here, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we are going to a certain town and will stay there a year. We will do business there and make a profit.’ How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, ‘If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.’ Otherwise you are boasting about your own pretentious plans, and all such boasting is evil.”

So, what if there is no going back? What if God’s view of normal is categorically different from ours because He wants to extrapolate Himself as simply one more ingredient in the mundane blend of life? It strikes me as arrogantly presumptuous to assume God will again accommodate us with lives that really weren’t all that focused on Him to begin with. How would a return to that normal benefit us? Let’s be honest, it’s easy to live “the Christian life” in America without God’s help. Jesus is stretched across our culture like a security blanket under which the evangelical church quietly slumbers. Our collective effort as a society is spent creating an environment that negates any possibility of discomfort. What if the coronavirus is just the first of 10 “plagues” God chooses to send our way until we awaken from lethargy? Would He be unjust or unkind in doing so?

The answer is no, far from it. In fact, there is grace to be found in the viral tsunami He sent crashing against our shores of normalcy, destroying our idols of entertainment, money, comfort, complacency and dozens of other pursuits that take priority over pursuing Him. For the unbeliever, the instability and chaos are clear calls to salvation. Seek the Lord while He may be found, for today is the day of salvation. For the believer, these days should serve as a reminder to drop that which we hold so dearly, focus ahead and keep moving forward. This world is not our home, and God is warning us to beware of the seduction it offers.

My biggest concern about whether my life will return to normal is that it might. The known always looks more secure than the unknown, but isn’t that the point? Hasn’t coronavirus exposed the fallacy that the things in which we seek security – health, family, jobs, retirement plans, government – really aren’t secure. We’ve built fragile lives on the instability of the American Dream only to discover, once again, shifting sand is subject to something as innocuous as the rapidly mutating whims of microscopic organisms. There is a better life to be had than being a hostage to the tyranny of the temporal.

As I consider where secular and sacred blur, and God too often becomes a savory ingredient blended into my life, I have asked myself if I really want life to go back to normal. No, I really don’t believe I do. 

Not wanting to go back to normal is one thing, but, I believe Jesus is asking me – and all of us – a more profound question. “Yeah, but are you willing to do whatever it takes to ensure it doesn’t?”

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). 

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