After the COVID-19 crisis, many look forward to life returning to normal. But what will the “new normal” look like, and is this a good thing? Yes! And, No!
Normal is an odd word, the way we tend to use it. It implies that normal is good, and abnormal is bad. So “returning to normal,” we assume, is naturally a good thing.
But normal can be a value-neutral word. By definition, it refers to what is usual, typical, common or expected. It is the average or typical state or condition, without regard to whether that condition is good or bad.
Will we ever go back to normal?
For the long months we lived in the shadow of COVID-19, wearing a mask and social distancing was normal practice in public. As we look to emerge from pandemic-enforced protocols, we look forward to returning to what was normal before March 2020.
But the pandemic has changed things—and some of those changes will continue even after we stop wearing masks. And other things not directly related to the pandemic have changed—some quite dramatically. During the pandemic, society has been evolving, so when we “return to normal,” it won’t be the same normal as before.
Will that be good or bad? The way we interact socially has been affected. Business and education have been affected, with technology playing a much more significant role. International relations and politics have changed dramatically.
Dramatic changes across broad spectrums of life over the past year ensure that returning to prepandemic standards of normal is not going to happen.
Tech to the rescue
The integration of technology into virtually every aspect of life increased exponentially due to the pandemic. We became dependent on technology for everything from shopping to education to employment. Virtual interactions were safe from the coronavirus, so life moved online.
Amazon, the giant of the Internet marketplace, saw its profits double in 2020 and had to hire 175,000 workers to handle the load as online orders soared. From groceries to garage door openers, almost everything is being bought online now, in an increasingly cashless society.
For millions of students, going to school meant firing up the computer—their classroom looking like the opening of an old Brady Bunch sitcom.
For millions of workers, from paralegals to personal trainers, going to work meant meeting with clients and coworkers on Zoom. Even doctor appointments were increasingly handled through the new medium of telemedicine.
Personal interactions became virtual. The Internet became our lifeline. Technology replaced touch.
Technology has been so thoroughly integrated into the fabric of life that it will not go away with the virus. It is here to stay, and it is changing the way we do things fundamentally.
Tech brings with it many conveniences that are beneficial and appreciated. Yet a Pew Research survey of 915 innovators, developers, business and policy leaders, researchers and activists found that 47 percent of respondents said life will be mostly worse for most people in 2025 than it was before the pandemic. Only 39 percent said life will be mostly better for most people in 2025 than it was prepandemic (“Experts Say the ‘New Normal’ in 2025 Will Be Far More Tech-Driven, Presenting More Big Challenges”).
Tech is taking over. In a “tele-everything” world, humans will interact with “god-like technology,” in the words of biologist E.O. Wilson.
Our desire for the convenience and safety tech offers drives consumers to seek out smart gadgets, apps and systems, in the process giving up privacy and security to big technology firms. Entrusted with massive amounts of information, the firms use it to exploit their market advantages using tools like artificial intelligence (AI) “in ways that seem likely to further erode the privacy and autonomy of their users,” say experts.
This broader dependence on the Internet heightens threats of criminal activity, hacks and other attacks.
The conveniences coming with such a new, tech-driven, tech-integrated “normal” have therefore brought significant new threats to privacy, security and personal autonomy.
We will be emerging from the pandemic to a new normal, both good and bad, in which, as the Pew study stated, “the best and worst of human nature are amplified.”The Pew study also concluded that “misinformation will be rampant: Digital propaganda is unstoppable, and the rapidly expanding weaponization of cloud-based technologies divides the public, deteriorates social cohesion and threatens rational deliberation and evidence-based policymaking.”
When it comes to the influence of technology, we won’t be returning to normal. We will be emerging from the pandemic to a new normal, both good and bad, in which, as the Pew study stated, “the best and worst of human nature are amplified.”
Violence has increased
“There’s some hope the U.S. can beat COVID-19 someday,” reported Time magazine recently; “there’s far less optimism that leaders can end the gun violence scourge” (“Mass Shootings: This Is What Normal Has Come to Be Like in America”).
Definitions of mass shootings vary, but by any standard, the first quarter of 2021 has seen an increase in the United States. Mass shootings, once rare, are regular fare in the media today.
During the pandemic, there were also violent clashes between protesters and law enforcement, and riots in major cities. Businesses were looted or burned. Government buildings were defaced and broken into.
Even apart from the riots, homicides soared in many cities, and 2020 had the highest death toll in more than 20 years, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Reflecting increased concerns for personal protection amidst fears that this kind of violence has become the new normal, 22.8 million firearms were sold in 2020—almost 9 million more than the previous year.
As we “return to normal” after the pandemic, violence and the fear of it have become an uncomfortable new normal. In His Olivet Prophecy, Jesus warned that the end times would be “as the days of Noah were” (Matthew 24:37)—when “the earth was filled with violence” (Genesis 6:11).
The drift toward increasing technology has been pushed forward by the crisis, and we accept its growing pervasiveness as the new standard for both good and ill. The natural proclivity within man toward contention and strife, normally contained at a fairly low level by commonly accepted morals and by law, has drifted to a new level of violence.
We find ourselves accepting these conditions and many others as part of the new normal.
The drift toward sin
The normal state of mankind is sin. That’s why we need a Savior. We read that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 3:23; 6:23).
Our hope comes from acknowledging our sinfulness to God and repenting—turning away from it. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Christ’s sacrifice can be applied for us, and we can receive God’s Spirit to strengthen and guide us in our commitment to overcome the sinful nature that is at work in us.
Sin is not good. But it is normal in our society. And a growing acceptance of sin is not good!In a society that is increasingly secular, the barriers to sin are cast off. The drift toward sin accelerates, the concept of what sin is gets redefined on human, secular standards, and sinful behaviors and attitudes become increasingly common—become “normal.” This also mirrors the days of Noah when “the wickedness of man was great” (Genesis 6:5). And it matches the evil end time attitudes the apostle Paul prophesied (2 Timothy 3:1-5).
Sin is not good. But it is normal in our society. And a growing acceptance of sin is not good!
Lot’s “new normal”
The Bible gives a stark example of the effects of accepting a new normal.
The biblical patriarch Lot is described in Scripture as a righteous man (2 Peter 2:7). For years, he lived with his uncle Abraham, and God prospered them. It was normal for them to serve and obey God faithfully.
But a minor crisis arose between the herdsmen of Lot and Abraham, which caused Lot to move with his family to the city of Sodom (Genesis 13:8-12). Obeying God was decidedly not normal for the people of that city. They were violent and exceedingly immoral, and the outcry before God because of its sinfulness was very grave (Genesis 18:20).
But over time it became “normal” for Lot to live in this environment surrounded by sin. He didn’t condone the wickedness done in the city, but he accepted it as the status quo, and put down roots. Some of his daughters married men of the city.
When Lot, encouraged by angels, warned his sons-in-law to flee the city before God destroyed it for its wickedness, they thought he was kidding and stayed. Life there was normal, after all (Genesis 19:14).
Even Lot hesitated about leaving the city, and the angels had to drag him, his wife, and his two unmarried daughters out (Genesis 19:15-17). Even then, Lot’s wife cast her eyes back on the city, perhaps lamenting the loss of their “normal” life there, not fully appreciating the depth of depravity she had come to accept as commonplace.
The lesson for us
There is danger in accepting sin as normal, regardless of how commonplace, accepted or approved it may be in a growingly secular and godless society.
As the world looks at turning the corner on the COVID-19 crisis, be careful to take stock of what it means to return to normal. Much has changed, and not all of it for the good.
Learn more in our online article “How Has the Coronavirus Changed You?”