I’ve had several conversations with folks in the last few weeks, fearful of the state of the world. Economic downturn, failed leadership at all levels, personal tragedy, and just really bad news all around. A lot of people are starting to think that this is the worst time in history. At least American history. I’ve heard various versions of “America has lost its greatness.” or “America is headed downward.” It’s interesting that I only seem to hear this from Christians when a certain party is out of power. Then suddenly, when someone we like is in the White House, suddenly things are sunshine and roses again and America is “back.”
I’d be lying if I said there weren’t troubling indicators in America. Unsustainable debt, paralysis at the top levels of government, a culture embracing ungodliness, and a seeming decline in Christian influence. But I wonder if our fear is less about reality and more about our increasing knowledge in this 21st Century. Everyone knows all the bad news all time and in real-time. That makes a huge difference. We live in the days when bad news travels to us like a never-stopping ticker, whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, news sites, or screen crawls on the bottom of cable news channels.
There are advantages to this, of course. When disaster strikes, we can mobilize quickly to help those in need. But there are extreme disadvantages. Such as the paralyzing fear that is sinking into the hearts of people.
I’ve recently been reading history, some biographies centered around the 1940’s to 1960’s. I’m amazed at the threats the world faced then. Three menacing powers threatened to take over the world: Stalin in Russia, Hitler in German, Hirohito in Japan. These weren’t some garden-variety nut threatening to use a nuke, but marginalized by the world powers. These were real, massive, imposing armies on the march. Civilization, literally, did hang in the balance. But for the courage of men like Churchill and FDR, perhaps Hitler would have won. (As a Christian I argue that God intervened in the course of history). It was a harrowing time, followed by decades of more fear: Korea, Cold War, Vietnam, division and racial tension in the U.S., assassinations of world leaders, economic stagnation, Watergate. It was a time of fear.
Fast forward today and you might say, “Yes, the world is in trouble” and you’d be right. You’re right to pray and vote for leaders with spiritual and moral courage. But you’d be wrong to assume you’re living in the worst time in history. Far, far from it. Think back throughout human history and you find a sordid tale of man’s inability to govern himself, the ravages of sin upon the human race, and very few pockets of stability and freedom.
Today the average American enjoys, even in economic decline, unparalleled wealth compared to the way people have lived throughout history. He enjoys something completely rare in all of history: religious freedom. He enjoys opportunity not granted to any other group of people in the history of the world.
You wouldn’t know that by checking Drudge’s sensational, six-inch headlines every day. But imagine if Drudge had given blow-by-blow accounts of, say, D-Day or the Great Depression or the Civil War? Yeah, maybe it’s good the Internet wasn’t around then.
I’m not saying we’re not in scary times. We definitely are. But we are also in good times. It’s just that we’re not conditioned for any kind of disruption of our comfort. Perhaps it would be good to study history and realize how good we have it today. Let’s pray that America’s very serious problems will be solved and that good leadership will rise. But let’s also be grateful to God for allowing us to live in such a blessed, prosperous age. And let’s model Paul’s spirit from a Roman prison, “I have learned, in whatsoever situation I am to be content”(Philippians 4:11). And let’s pray that our awakening to everyday bad news will bring believers to their knees and unbelievers to the cross.