It Will Be Stormy: No Time For Normalcy Bias

The Pharisees and Sadducees came to Yeshua and tested him by asking him to show them a sign from heaven. He replied, “When evening comes, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red,’ and in the morning, ‘Today it will be stormy, for the sky is red and overcast.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” Matthew 16). Unlike the Pharisees and Sadducees, I think I can interpret the signs of the times. Here’s my

interpretation of the signs of our times: This is like one of those mornings when the sky is red and overcast. It’s about to be stormy. We’re heading into an extremely bad storm, a perfect storm, a superstorm made up of other storms coming together at the same time.

One of the storms is secular humanism – the idea that man, not God, is what is important. Man is the center of things – not God.

Secular humanism has become the dominant worldview in western civilization. Western civilization is not only post-Christian, but in many ways it’s anti-Christian. That’s tragic because ideas are important, and bad ideas, especially bad ideas about God and religion, produce tragic consequences – many of which we are experiencing.

Another storm is the increase of immorality. I can’t believe how immoral our society has become since the time I was young. So much sexual promiscuity, perversion, homosexuality, transgenderism, pornography, pedophilia. Immorality is destructive to individuals, families and societies; and we’re reaping the bitter fruit of decades of immorality we’ve been sowing.

Another storm is the breakdown of the family: so much living together without marriage, having children outside of marriage, so much divorce. The breakdown of the family is terribly destructive to individuals, families and society.

Another storm is the deterioration of the US economy. The economy is not strong. If the economy were strong, there wouldn’t be record levels of corporate debt, government debt and personal debt. If the economy were strong, the federal government wouldn’t be going further and further into debt. It would be paying down the debt. States and cities wouldn’t be going further and further into debt. They would be paying down their debts. Pensions would be fully funded. They aren’t. The Federal Reserve would be raising interest rates, not lowering interest rates to stimulate the economy. If the economy were strong, we wouldn’t be experiencing something the world has never experienced before – negative interest rates. That should tell us something. If the economy were strong, the roads would be good (they’re not), and we’d be doing a better job maintaining and improving the infrastructure. If the economy were strong, the average worker wouldn’t be making the same he made decades ago. There wouldn’t be growing levels of personal debt, credit card debt, student loan debt, auto loan debt. The majority of people would not be living paycheck to paycheck. If the economy were strong, the Federal Reserve wouldn’t be printing trillions of dollars out of nowhere and using it to pump up stocks, bonds and real estate, which is great for Wall Street but bad for Main Street. We’re heading into a very bad financial storm.

Another storm: the deteriorating global economy. The global economy is slowing. Many nations are going into this global slowdown with very high levels of debt. Not good.

Another storm: rising geopolitical tensions. There are tensions between the US and China; between the US and Russia; and between the US and North Korea, India and Pakistan. Rising tensions between the US, Israel and the Gulf States vs. Iran could ignite a war in the Middle East at any time, which could affect the whole world.

I know what you’re thinking: “Rabbi Loren, there you go again. You’re such a doom and gloomer! You’re such a pessimist. Don’t you know these kinds of storms have always existed? Don’t worry. They’ll sort themselves out. They always do. Everything will be fine.” That kind of thinking has a name. It’s called normalcy bias. It’s the belief that things will continue to function the way they normally function. It’s the belief that tomorrow will be like today – maybe a little better, maybe a

little worse, but pretty much just like today. Normalcy bias: When things are bad, they’ll continue to be bad. When things are good, they’ll continue to be good. Life in a fallen world may work that way for a time – or not. There may be unexpected changes and sudden reversals.

The Word of God warns us about normalcy bias. Proverbs 27:1: Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring. We are not God. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. We aren’t in charge of tomorrow. Things can change radically by tomorrow. Therefore, we shouldn’t boast about tomorrow because we may be wrong, and we could be revealed as arrogant fools.

Ya’akov (James), the brother of the Lord Yeshua and Jewish royalty because he was a descendant of King David, was the leader of Messiah’s Community in Jerusalem – arguably the most important of Messiah’s communities in the world. He wrote this to Messianic Jews living outside of Israel: Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. James was warning us about not engaging in normalcy bias. We are not to boast about what we will do later today or tomorrow. We aren’t in control of today or tomorrow and don’t know what will happen today or tomorrow. We are frail creatures whose lives are short. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. In general, mists last for a little while and disappear. That’s what we’re like. Our lives are over before we know it.

Several years ago, my friend Jhan, who was one of the first of the “Jews for Jesus” and the best preacher in the Messianic Jewish Community, went into Manhattan one morning, tripped on stairs in Grand Central Station, hit his head and was brain-dead within hours. They took him off life support the next day. I’m sure Jhan didn’t wake up that last morning in his Brooklyn home thinking his life would be over in a few hours – but it was. Our lives can change in a day, in a few hours – in a moment.

Back to James: Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” … Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” James reminded us that we are not in control of our lives – the Lord is. We are not in control of the future – the Lord is. What we want, our will, doesn’t determine if we will live or what we will do – the Lord’s will determines if we will live and what we will do. Therefore, when speaking about our plans for the future, with wisdom and humility, we say: “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”

The Word of God has more to say about normalcy bias. Messiah told this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ This rich man assumed that his wealth would last for many years and he was making plans to enjoy his prosperity. “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.’” That night that rich man would die. And because he wrongly believed he would enjoy a pleasant life for many years, he was not ready to meet his Maker. The lesson: We don’t know if we will live through the night. Today might be our last day. Therefore, today, now, we need to get right with God and make sure our priorities are right – living to serve God, not self, living to serve God, not the world.

Normalcy bias not only affects individuals, it affects nations. The book of Daniel informs us about the end of the greatest empire the world had known. Even though the city of Babylon was surrounded by the armies of the Medes and Persians, the leaders of the Babylonian empire believed they were safe behind the great walls of Babylon and the good times they had enjoyed for decades would continue. A thousand of the leaders had a party one night, eating and drinking and mocking the God of Israel. The Lord was offended. He judged them and found them lacking and decided their time was over. That night the city was captured by the Medes and Persians. The king of Babylon was killed, and the leaders of the empire, who were rich and powerful and enjoying life one day, were dead or impoverished the next.

If an empire like Babylon can collapse in one day, can’t a complex, highly indebted and highly leveraged financial system collapse in a short period of time? The financial system came very close to collapsing in 2008. Some say it was a few days, some say a few hours away from collapsing.

It’s been 11 years since then, which is longer than the average business cycle, and things are slowing down again. We’re entering another downturn in a weaker condition than we entered the 2008 crisis because we have much more debt than in 2008. Because interest rates are already low, they can’t be lowered enough to stimulate the economy to recover again. If you have some assets, diversify some into gold and silver. Do it soon.

It wasn’t just the Babylonian leaders who were guilty of normalcy bias. The leaders of the Chosen People who lived in the time of Isaiah were guilty of it, too. Listen to Isaiah’s criticism of them: Israel’s watchmen … are dogs with mighty appetites; they never have enough. They are shepherds who lack understanding; they all turn to their own way, they seek their own gain. “Come,” each one cries, “let me get wine! Let us drink our fill of beer! And tomorrow will be like today, or even far better.”

The leaders of Israel, who should have known God and His ways the best and served Him the best, lacked understanding. They were neglecting God and their responsibilities. They were greedy and focused on having a good time. They were drinking lots of wine and beer and enjoying themselves. They were positive and optimistic. They thought that tomorrow would be like today, or even far better. But it wouldn’t be better. God was unhappy with them and judgment was coming.

That was 2700 years ago. What about the future – maybe our future? Messiah prophesied that, immediately before He returns, it will be like the days of Noah. Instead of getting right with God and serving the Lord and preparing for judgment like Noah and his family did, everyone else was eating, drinking, marrying and being given in marriage – until the day Noah entered the ark. Then the flood destroyed them all. Messiah prophesied that, immediately before He returns, it will be like the days of Lot. The people of Sodom were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building. Life was good in Sodom. The economy was good. There was a wide range of sexual expression. So many of today’s people would have loved life in Sodom. But the day Lot left Sodom, the Lord caused fire and sulfur to rain down on them and destroy them all. The people of Sodom, enjoying their good times, never got right with God and weren’t prepared to meet their Maker.

We don’t want to make that same mistake. None of us knows what might happen tomorrow, or even later today. We don’t want to foolishly and proudly think or act or talk as if we do. We want to turn from our sins – now. We want to get right with God – now. We want to serve the Lord – now. We want to be ready at any moment to meet Messiah if we die or He returns, and hear Him say: Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!