New York Times columnist David Leonhardt has set out the case for returning to “normalcy” as the world continues to manage the coronavirus pandemic. But even in the best case, the new “normal” will not be the old “normal.” The virus will still be with us, scientists believe, and will be part of our lives for the foreseeable future.
In some ways, this is a parable of our times: seeking normalcy in days that are anything but.
Consumer sentiment has hit a ten-year low while workers quit their jobs in record numbers. Teacher burnout is raising broad concerns about the state of education. Unruly passengers are becoming an escalating problem for airlines: a Southwest employee had to be hospitalized after being attacked by a female passenger at Dallas’ Love Field Airport Saturday.
A “boiling point” and remarkable good news
A Harvard psychologist explains that after a year and a half of fear and anxiety, people have reached a “boiling point.” At the same time, here’s some good news: the YouVersion Bible app has amassed over five hundred million installs on devices around the world. (Note: Both Denison Forum and First15 publish devotionals on YouVersion.)
The apparent contradiction between these two stories points to a reality that we do well to grasp in the “new normal” of our chaotic, secularized, post-Christian culture.
The rising angst and anger we are witnessing is an inevitable and predictable result of living without God. A society that decides religion is outdated if not dangerous will reap the results of rejecting the One who is the only source of true peace (John 14:27).
At the same time, as Pascal noted, our God-shaped emptiness remains. It calls us to seek the transcendent and supernatural even in a culture that denies both. The darker the room, the more attractive and compelling the light.
Jesus prayed, “This is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (John 17:3). To know Christ and make him known is the essence of the Christian life. Nothing less will satisfy hearts that are “restless until they rest in him” (St. Augustine).
Treadmills at the beach
I was privileged to lead two seminars yesterday at the Texas Baptist Convention during our annual meeting in Galveston. Early yesterday morning, I made my way to the hotel workout facility, where I found the two treadmills pictured here:
As it turned out, only one of them was working properly. The belt on the other kept slipping, rendering it unusable. Can you tell which is which from the picture? Neither could I in person. Only after I tried the one on the right and found it inoperable did I use the one on the left.
I also spent a few minutes yesterday gazing at this view outside my hotel window:
I have long been attracted to the infinity and mystery of the ocean. There is an entire world living beneath its surface that I cannot see from above that surface.
In both cases, experience is the key to understanding. Trying the treadmills revealed which one kept its “brand promise” (a concept I discussed in my latest blog). Diving beneath the ocean’s surface would be the best way to experience marine life beneath the waves.
It is the same with the Christian life.
Paul celebrated “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). From the Garden of Eden to today, you and I were made for intimacy with our Maker. We were created in his image and likeness (Genesis 1:27) so we could know him and make him known to others.
This is the highest purpose in life. This is the calling Christians are to grasp with joy and share with passion. Loving God empowers us to love our neighbors; loving our neighbors positions us to experience God’s love (Matthew 22:37–39).
When we settle for anything less, we miss authentic Christianity. And the world misses its opportunity to see the living, transforming Christ in us.
A “resolute purpose”
Winston Churchill noted: “It is wonderful what great strides can be made when there is a resolute purpose behind them.” Knowing Christ and making him known is the “resolute purpose” for which our lives are intended. Our broken world desperately needs us to settle for nothing less.
Thomas à Kempis (1379–1471) is thought to have written these lines of wonder:
O love, how deep, how broad, how high
It fills the heart with ecstasy,
That God, the Son of God, should take
Our mortal form for mortals’ sake.
In response to such love, the Scottish minister John Baillie prayed:
Let me remember that my mortal body is only the servant of my immortal soul;
Let me remember how uncertain my hold is on my own physical life;
Let me remember that here I have no continuing city, but only a place for a brief stay, and a time for testing and training. . . .
Let me understand the vanity of what is time bound and the glory of the eternal;
Let my world be centered not in myself, but in you.
Will you make his prayer your own today?
NOTE: Today is the LAST and FINAL day you can request this year’s book of Advent devotions by my wife Janet in order to get it in time. I know you and your family will be just as encouraged by this year’s devotions as you have been in years past — and I want you to be sure you have it in your hands by the time Advent begins. So please request your copy of He Came to Change the World today.