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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

No path to normalcy

A “reopened” America won’t be as we remember it

Normalcy. What would you trade to get it back? How deep into your pockets would you dive to regain the life you had just three months ago? 

Forget it! It’s not only that, as North Carolina writer Thomas Wolfe said years ago, “You can’t go home again.” It’s not just that the past is a superficially or nostalgically different place. The past, we are discovering during this incredible “reopening” process, will prove to have been profoundly different in the fundamentals. But we will not be returning to those fundamentals. 

Both our economy and our healthcare system, our president has assured us repeatedly, are unlike anything in human history. “And they are coming back,” he repeats—“and quite quickly.” 

I’m not so sure. For two reasons, the freedoms we inherit on the other side of this tragedy will be altogether different from what we experienced coming in.

The very path being proposed to “open” our nation for business smacks of socialism.

The first reason is that we have in such large measure moved into a managed economy. 

We have, in very short order, accepted some form of control by government at just about every level. For better or for worse, we are accepting the orders of our president, our governors, our mayors, and all kinds of consultants and bureaucrats in between. No need to recite here a list of all those decisions we used to make for ourselves. All you need to turn away in quiet terror is to count how many times various government entities now use the word “essential” to define their jobs.

The very path being proposed to “open” our nation for business smacks of socialism. It supposes there are people smart enough to lead us out of the fix we’re in. But why do we imagine that the best way to untangle the mess is to do the same thing over again? 

The second reason our freedoms will have a vastly different look is that even the free market will exert enormous pressure to reshape so much of what we do.

This is much more nuanced than the matter of government control. Now I’m talking about choices you and I will make, options you and I will select—all resulting in finished products quite different from what we were used to before the coronavirus moved in.

Try this example—of epic proportions:

Airlines around the world, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, were—prior to the virus—typically boarding about 6 million passengers every day. By early April, that figure had fallen by as much as 80 to 90 percent, with big planes flying with mostly empty seats. But those empty seats weren’t the immediate result of government controls; indeed, government folks wanted them full! The seats were typically empty because hundreds of thousands of would-be passengers were making the decision not to fly.

After all, tell me that I’m free to fly but that I have to stay 6 feet away from every other human being, and I don’t have to be too smart to say no thanks for the ticket—even if you gave it to me! The reverberations of that conversation will echo back not just to the headquarters of that particular airline, but to Boeing aircraft factories in northwest Washington, and then to the nation’s capital where projected tax revenues look skimpier every day.

And that’s just one example. The stakes are similarly high among the more than 2,000 assisted living centers throughout the nation. When you’re told on the one hand to get close to those oldsters but on the other hand to keep your distance so you don’t kill them, you have hard choices to make. And those hard choices are on every side. But that’s to discuss in this space another time.

Another example includes a quarter million local churches that can’t help wondering what their freedom will look like on the other side of the “reopening.” That too is to be discussed in future issues, again and again.

Whatever freedoms await us just the other side of our government’s “reopening” will look unfamiliar. The “normal” we want to go back to isn’t there any more.


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    Posted: Wed, 04/22/2020 06:44 pm

    I hadn't thought about it until my husband said, "'the time before the coronavirus' will be a memory." How many schools will close as more families try homeschooling and options like K12? What freedoms will we lose and barely remember that we had them? Will the Christian faith be weakened by the idea that assembling in person to be the body of Christ is not as important as avoiding danger? Or will we treasure physical presence more than ever? Will economies become more localized as we realize the fragility of a global supply chain? Will bras go the way of girdles and pantyhose as many women get used to not having to wear them?

    There's no way to know until it happens, but I pray that the Lord's purposes prevail over all the ways that the evil one will want to use the situation.

  • Ed Schick
    Posted: Thu, 04/23/2020 08:16 am

    I don't think we should talk about CV19 like a sovereign "god" who came into our world in 2020 to change it forever. There was life before CV19 and there will be life after CV19. I choose to make Christ the greatest determinig factor in my life. The man-made failures that have devasted us during the this time were in the works long before 2020. Our main institutions have been weakening for a long time. CV19 was just another larger step down. We can go up collectively or further down if we choose. This will be determined by our view of God not the presence of a virus.

  • Hawkdriver
    Posted: Fri, 04/24/2020 12:04 am


    Well said Sir.  We are citizens of a Greater Kingdom and a Perfect, Invincible, Eternal King!  CV19 will have it's affects on earth as all vestiges of the 'curse' will........ we'll get through it by God's Grace.


  • JM
    Posted: Thu, 04/23/2020 10:21 am

         We never have been a static society. A look at the journey from Adam to Jesus shows that the Jewish society was always reforming. They had a strong extended family society grouped in communities. In my opinion, the appearance of our Messiah was timed to move Israel from Temple based worship to community based worship, because Israel was formed as a nation to become a nation of priests to the world.

         The rest of our history is not to dissimilar to the Jewish experience. More recently my family struggled through the Civil War, the Spanish Flu, the Great Depression, and the Cold War. Do we look the same? All along the way we held our faithfulness to the Scriptures.

         The current crisis "will not go to waste" as big government spends our savings for retirement, and the next generation's productivity to give us more Socialism, in ever increasing waves. Check your 401K lately?

        The Church may be the only portion of our society that will maneuver through the takeover. That is why we are challenged to become relevant to this pandemic fearing society. Drive-in church and online services are a challenge, but we will be together soon. We will look different but Jesus is still on the Throne!

  • Trumpetly Speaking
    Posted: Thu, 04/23/2020 05:46 pm

    I agree, the Church can show herself to be Christ's faithful followers in this situation.  There is no doubt that China and other forces meant this for evil.  But God will bring good from it for us, His beloved.

    I, for one, don't want things exactly as they once were.  I hope that we all take a few things with us from this experience:  patience, love for our neighbors, more Sabbath-keeping and rest, contemplation, prioritizing time to spend with family and with our heavenly Father, paying attention to what He is calling us to do daily, and fixing our minds on the Spirit.

    I also would not want to hold onto comfort if it meant delaying His return.  If we're suffering, let it be done with love for God, and for others.

  • Hawkdriver
    Posted: Fri, 04/24/2020 12:06 am


  • RC
    Posted: Thu, 04/23/2020 11:11 am

    If I can push back. Joel is overstating the case. Yes, different but not altogether different. Yes, We have had to accept more government control, and nobody likes it, but this virus has been so different than anything we have experienced in the past.  The man on the street is clue less and the experts are only a little less clueless. Tough decisions have had to be made, the price to preserve life has been a restriction to our freedoms.  The government “orders” will pass as the virus passes. But when?   

    Yes, what price are we willing to pay? The faster we reopen, and reduce restrictions, the more lives we will be risking. Even at this stage we don’t really know what that means, in cost of lives, but we do know how many lives have been lost so far.  On the other hand the cost to the economic life of our nation is mounting, fast, under these restrictions.  The protests and pressure for reopening the economic is growing stronger.  The stakes are high.  More tough decisions need to be made with inadequate information and the clock is ticking.

    I think we need to boldly step forward but not run. Take one step and see what happens and adjust.  Reduce some restrictions, open up some.  Highly encourage safety, keep the six-foot separation, keep the masks on. Keep expanding testing.  Once an inoculation against the virus is available the life threating aspect will be reduced, but it looks like we are some months away from that.

    My guess is that once we get on the other side of this life will be different. We will have time to mourn the loss of lives.  The economic will be different, I don’t know how broken it will be or how long it will take to get back up and running well. But we will have more reason to be dependent on our eternally strong Father in heaven as we have seen how fragile life of this earth really is.

  • Neil Evans
    Posted: Thu, 04/23/2020 01:49 pm

    "Normal" tends to be the arena where complacency thrives.  Our human nature usually requires some sort of crisis to get our attention.  We also tend to think that the character of our tomorrow will be determined by government, economy, society, or other environmental actions.  Actually the character of our days is not determined by the circumstances that surround us, but by our response.  And those who belong to Jesus are gifted with His LIFE to face any circumstance with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  May God help us enjoy Him and represent Him well no matter what the future America looks like.

  •  nxlcsdeo's picture
    Posted: Thu, 04/23/2020 02:35 pm

    My heart breaks for the truth of what you write, Mr. Belz.  How odd that government decree now colors even our most intimate relationships.  How cruel that "protecting" our aged and vulnerable now means not touching them.  If we don't happen to be "believers" in the new scientific "reality" which is being marketed to us (there is a tiny invisible virus out there which can kill you or someone you care about), we risk ostracism or worse.  So we go along to get along.  

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Fri, 04/24/2020 01:17 pm

    Some of the more measured reader comments are very good. Although I am a post-World War II baby boomer, I once visited an outstanding, small museum in a west coast town that very thoroughly covered life in America during the war. I will never forget that experience. I was overwhelmed at the extent that the national government had intruded into the minutiae of daily living. Propaganda galore, rationing coupons, recipes for homemade concoctions, and did I say government propaganda? Every detail of American life was intruded upon, down to gardening tips and what vegetables to plant in your personal victory garden. Funny, I didn't see any exhibits about socialism or of people complaining about loss of freedom. Remember Rosie the Riveter? Now her attitude wasn't, Oh me oh my! Our wicked, wicked government--it was: We can do this! (Some will say that she herself was a propaganda poster.) I believe today's America complains more than any other nation on earth.

    I lived through Viet Nam and the draft. Draft? Now there's a government intrusion if there ever was one! But the bulk of Americans didn't see it that way and many condemned the young people fleeing to Canada, where their freedom could be preserved.

    But you say that's different? Our country was at war? The point remains that there are moments in history when our American government intrudes upon our individual freedoms and our lives. It's been that way since the beginning, since the Revolutionary War when General Washington threatened to shoot deserters. It's called being a country.

    I will agree with Mr Belz that life will not be the same, at least for a while, post-Covid. I remember my very first thought after hearing the news about 911 at 7:45 am, before I had to collect the children to begin the day in my 2nd grade classroom, "This changes everything." America did change after 911, and the changes remain. Time alone will tell how permanent some of the new Covid habits will be. Not everything has been bad. After all, the air is cleaner.

    Can we just quit complaining?

  • Laura W
    Posted: Fri, 04/24/2020 08:41 pm

    Thanks for providing some perspective. :)

  • Trumpetly Speaking
    Posted: Sat, 04/25/2020 02:15 pm

    I would like to remind us of something Condoleeza Rice said recently during a Hoover Institute virtual policy briefing.  She remarked that measures to protect public health taken by a democratic government in a free society are much different than the same actions taken by an authoritarian government.  She says it much better here.  I echo the call for calm, but I would caution us all to be aware that some among us are suffering grave injury from this situation in many and sometimes multiple ways.  

    We shouldn't complain, but neither should we be insensible to the suffering of others.  Let's all do what we can to help one another.

  •  David Troup's picture
    David Troup
    Posted: Fri, 04/24/2020 03:04 pm

    It's like we are being hearded into Socialism one way or the other.


  • Leah B
    Posted: Fri, 04/24/2020 06:52 pm

    Yes, our country is definitely moving towards Socialism.  This is not a small or insignificant thing, correct.  But allow me to use this space to remind any fellow readers what Psalms 2 pens for us as  reality check: "Why  do the nations rage?...He who sits in the heavens laughs?"

    This is, indeed "a new thing" as pointed out.   But, let us remember, according to  the Holy Scriptures "a new thing" is exactly the words used by the Prophet Isaiah to proclaim the hopeful future reign of the Messiah, finally coming for weary children of God.  
    As far as the point made about the change in the local evangelical church after this Covid shut down; I say an enthusiastic HALLELUJAH!   We need a change.  We have become fat, sluggish, and ineffective,  because "going to church" has become an easy, non-thinking cultural norm for too many, for too long.  
    Let me repeat: "a new thing" should not strike terror into the heart of true believers; but hope.  
    Are we, "the peculiar people" not looking for something new, new as in a fresh wind; in our materialistic, pagan nation?  And I am speaking of the evangelical church, by the way.

    Thank you Joel for your professionalism and wisdom; as always.

    Leah Beecher

  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Fri, 04/24/2020 10:25 pm

    " As far as the point made about the change in the local evangelical church after this Covid shut down; I say an enthusiastic HALLELUJAH!   We need a change.  We have become fat, sluggish, and ineffective,  because "going to church" has become an easy, non-thinking cultural norm for too many, for too long.  
    Let me repeat: "a new thing" should not strike terror into the heart of true believers; but hope.  
    Are we, "the peculiar people" not looking for something new, new as in a fresh wind; in our materialistic, pagan nation?  And I am speaking of the evangelical church, by the way."

    Leah B, you dared write that at World Magazine? Good for you!