June 19, 2020

To What Kind of ‘Normal’ Do We Want to Return?

I’m at the stage where I don’t want to watch the news. I want to switch off the laptop to avoid yet another headline I can’t bear to read. The truth is soul destroying. So much pain, destruction, and death. We all want to know—When will it stop? When will we get back to ‘normal’?

Then again, I don’t know that I want to get back to normal if normal is where kids are abused, people are killed, riots destroy, domestic violence is rife, and poverty means that some people die over 20 years earlier than those who live just six miles away. What is this ‘normal’ we want to return to?

When ‘Normal’ is Anything But

In one month, the IWF (Internet Watch Foundation) blocked and filtered over 8.8 million attempts to access some form of child abuse material online. That’s a staggering number for just one month. How many more were there from the ‘domains’ they didn’t observe and filter? “The National Crime Agency last month revealed it believes there are a minimum of 300,000 individuals in the UK posing a sexual threat to children, either through physical “contact” abuse, or via the internet.”

During lockdown in the UK, domestic violence killings have doubled, and calls to the helplines have surged. “We can say that the number of women killed by men over the first three weeks since lockdown is the highest it’s been for at least 11 years and is double that of an average 21 days over the last 10 years.”

In recent days, we have seen troubling reports and videos all-over social media—the news of racial violence, looting, and rioting intermingled with tens of thousands of people peacefully protesting against injustice. I’ve read reports stating that in Edinburgh alone it is estimated that nearly 1 in every 4 children live in poverty. That’s 800,000 people in our beautiful city who are struggling. With 29% of Scottish business not sure they will survive lockdown, unemployment will rise—tentative estimates suggest it will double. Those in the poorest communities will be hit the hardest. The working poor are more likely to work in sectors that have been shut down. “Lockdown has revealed just how precarious large parts of our economy are, with people on low incomes being pulled into further hardship and a new surge of unemployed people at risk of being swept into poverty.”

I am sickened by the thought that child abuse has become entertainment. I’m horrified that, for some, ‘love’expresses itself at the end of a fist. I can’t comprehend the hatred that fuels racism. I’m ashamed I waste so much and take for granted what I have while people in my city are going hungry. I’m still trying to wrap my head around the reality that in my city, six miles can make a devastating difference—“Someone living in New Town West can expect to live 21 years longer than an individual living in Niddrie House.”

This is our ‘normal’! The sad reality is that lockdown hasn’t caused child abuse, racism, domestic violence, or poverty. These atrocities already existed. Christian: this is not a ‘normal’ I want to return to! Do you?

People Stepping Up

Thankfully, this pandemic has also highlighted the good things. It’s been amazing to watch people step up and care for the vulnerable in our community. Dropping of shopping, collecting prescriptions, or making meals for those shielding who couldn’t get out of their houses. Hearing my neighbours clap and bang pots in appreciation for the wonderful NHS staff who continue to their lives to serve and care for the sick. The supermarket staff who worked extra shifts to keep the shelves stocked, all while facing angry customers who couldn’t buy 12 packets of 24 toilet rolls because of the limit set on purchases.

It’s been amazing to see ministry staff step-up, innovatively finding ways different ways to serve their communities and share the gospel. I’m thankful for the technology that has enabled us to hold evangelistic Bible studies. I’m encouraged that for some this has even led to more in-depth, one-to-one study with people in the community. Even though I, like many of us, would have said I knew my Christian family well, this pandemic has given us an opportunity to spend time, without the usual distractions, to get to know people on a deeper lever. I’m happily realising that the pandemic has shone a light on more than just the ugly. I’m thankful that there are parts of ‘normal’ I really do want to get back to.

Positive Change

But as I noted at the beginning, this pandemic has brought to light the depth of depravity that exists in our world, countries, towns, and even within ourselves. We need to take wake up and pay attention. As we get ready to face the ‘new normal’, whatever that may be, I hope that we will take the lessons we have learnt with us. I personally don’t want to leave this period without there being real change. One of the early posts I read on Facebook said something along these lines—that this pandemic has given us time to ‘reset’ or ‘reboot’. Along with many others, I’m working my way through the stack of books I was always going to get to. I’ve walked and cycled more, and I’ve even eaten less rubbish. I’ve been disciplined and made changes I want to ensure make it into my new normal. More than anything though, this time has given me the opportunity to ‘reset’ with God. I’ve remembered the joy of just being in his Word, enjoying His presence. I’ve had the time without distractions to seek and enjoy God.

Last week, Scotland recorded no COVID-19 deaths for the first time in months, and the hope is that we are heading towards R=0. The next stage is Phase 2, with the prospect that lockdown restrictions may soon be lifted. For many, their eyes have been opened to what’s going on concerning the disparities that exist in Scotland. I pray we don’t forget the initial horrors and righteous anger we felt when we read the headlines highlighting the atrocities exasperated by COVID-19. I pray we don’t just skip over them, but rather are changed by them. We must strive and endeavour to stand against injustice, even once the protests and marches have ceased.

As Christians, there is so much we can do. We can pray passionately and consistently that the lost will repent and turn to God. He is the only real hope we have—the only One who can bring about lasting change in our new normal. As I write this, there is a verse running around my head I can’t escape from:

 “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chron. 7:14) 

May this be true of Scotland’s schemes—and poor communities all over the world—that many would humble themselves, crying out to God in repentance and faith.

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