‘We’ll soon be back to normal!’ So the politicians keep telling us, thanks to the Covid-19 vaccine. But what is normal? I think the politicians’ hope is that by this time next year, social distancing, face masks, and ubiquitous hand sanitisers will be a thing of the past.
Hopefully by Christmas 2021, we shall also be meeting back in church buildings: singing, praying, eating together, and hugging and shaking hands, all of which is normal, but which has been on hold due to the pandemic, and which we all miss deeply.
But that isn’t the only ‘normal’ we have lost. There’s another normal which was lost a long time ago, a normal which is the privilege of every man, woman, and child – and that is to know God as our Lord and Saviour and to walk with him in a loving relationship.
Tragically, that relationship has been lost and replaced with a way of life which has become the norm but which is far from what God intended. Before we start longing to get back to ‘normal’ we should stop and ask, what does the ‘normal’ that God intended look like?
‘Normal’ means ‘conforming to a standard’, and by implication, that which is desirable. In the Bible the concept is translated as sound, whole, or healthy.
In Genesis 1-2 we read that when God made the world and man, he said they were ‘very good’. God put his perfect man into his perfect world where everything was as it should be, a world free from disease and death, free from sin and shame and violence, where man obeyed God and where there was perfect harmony.
If we want a picture of what a truly healthy, normal life looks like, we need look no further than Genesis 1-2. But then comes the shocker! In Genesis 3, Adam essentially ‘exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator’ (Romans 1:25). The devil sowed the seed of disobedience in man’s mind, tempting him to deviate from God’s standards.
What resulted? Abnormal behaviour became the new, accepted norm. Adam and Eve disobeyed God and then blamed each other. They were ashamed of their nakedness and were found hiding from God in fear. That was not normal. Worst of all, death came, ‘for by the one man’s offence, death reigned’, and that is not normal either. Man was not made to die but to live forever.
And so today, as we wait to escape the grip of Covid-19 and return to ‘normal life’, what are we hoping to return to? Genesis 1 and 2: a world of love and peace with God? Or the world of Genesis 3: a world of sickness, disease, poverty, and fear?
If you read on to Genesis 4, you’ll find how things go from bad to worse. Adam’s son Cain grows jealous of his brother Abel, which leads to murder. Was that normal? No! What had gone wrong? In a word, ‘sin’ had entered the human race like a virus, alienating us from God in the process.
Thousands of years later, and we have grown accustomed to the consequences of sin. The abnormal has become the normal. Just as we have got used to living under lockdown tiers with face masks and social distancing, so too man has learnt to live with sin and disease and war and jealousy and hatred, and – worst of all – he thinks he can live without God.
Today, in fact, what many consider to be abnormal is belief in God itself. When I was dating my wife, I worked in a factory and she used to send me bouquets of flowers, and every time a bouquet of flowers arrived, the guys would say, ‘That’s never normal!’ When they learned that I was a Christian they thought that that was even less normal!
But the question remains, which normal do we want to get back to? The old norm of pre-Covid-19 days or a new spiritual normal: life as God intended? But can we get back to God’s normal? Can fallen man, infected and contaminated by sin, ever be sound and whole again and regain a lost relationship with his Creator? Can things ever return to the way they were in Genesis 1 and 2?
Well, the good news is, yes, they can. When an angel visited Joseph in Matthew 1, he said, ‘Behold, the Virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, “God with us”.’ God hadn’t been among us or remained with us since Adam rebelled, but now he has come back in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only through him, ‘Immanuel’, that God can be with us again and restore us to a healthy and wholesome relationship with our maker.
This is what we should all be longing for: the real normal of ‘God with us’, made possible through the new birth. Through this, as Revelation 21:3 tells us, God’s dwelling place is with man once again. It is where ‘God himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have died.’ That is what the Lord wants for us all.
We are, of course, grateful for the Covid-19 vaccine and we thank the Lord for the wonderful work of scientists, but ultimately our hope is not in a vaccine, it’s in the cross where ‘God gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life’.
So, whoever you are, and whenever you get your ‘jab’ to vaccinate you against Covid-19, please don’t settle for second best. Don’t be content to return to the way thing used to be. ‘Set your heart and mind on heavenly things… where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory’ (Colossians 3:1-4).
Jonathan Gravil is Pastor of Lincoln Evangelical Church.