I am going to talk about something that may not seem relevant to God’s grace, but can actually have a big impact on how we live and feel in this world. I have often heard sermons by good teachers that talk about how much worse the world is getting. Either we are coming into a dark time, America is turning away from Christianity, violence is increasing, our government is crumbling, poverty is a gigantic problem, or the world is coming to an end.
What do we usually use to enforce these ideas? The media.
The problem with getting our worldview from the media however is it doesn’t show us typical events, but sensational events (W. James Potter, The Definition of Media Literacy). This means we are using sensational stories to define how we see the world, which is not actually an accurate representation.
Let me ask you a question. Do you feel like your faith is going well or has been growing recently in general? Would you say you are declining in your faith overall?
65% of people think that religion is declining in America. However, 62% of Americans say religion is becoming a stronger influence on their lives (W. James Potter, The Definition of Media Literacy).
What about crime? Do you think crime is getting worse in our country? What with all the horrible stories we see on the news? Would you think that most crimes are violent?
But in reality, less than 20% of all crime is violent. More than 80% of all crime is property crime, with the victim not even present (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2000). Furthermore, the rate for violent crime has been declining in this country since the mid-1980s, yet very few people are aware of this decline (Whitman & Loftus, 1996). Instead, most people believe that violent crime is increasing because they continually see crime stories and gory images in the media. They have fashioned their opinions on sensationalized events, and this type of information provides no useful basis to infer an accurate picture about crime (W. James Potter)
I want to encourage you to take a look at http://www.gapminder.org/data/. The world’s data on many subjects was more recently released to the public. We can see things like the number of people affected by earthquakes, the average income for people in different countries, life expectancy, etc…
In my own observations of these statistics, I would conclude the world is getting better not worse. In fact, the average life expectancy of the world in the 1800s was around 31 years and the average income for most countries was around $1,000 per year (inflation adjusted). Since then life expectancy has doubled to around 70 years in most every country and income has multiplied to anywhere from 5,000 to $50,000 (again inflation adjusted). The problem of poverty is getting better not worse.
Despite popular opinion, there has not been a dramatic rise in people affected by earthquakes or floods per year since the 1970s. China is the exception and has had a lot of people affected by some recent earthquakes, but most of the world has remained relatively stable. The same goes for floods.
So what does this matter to our faith? It’s important we are not assuming the worst about our world and reacting to it in an inappropriate way or basing our theology on what the news presents to us. It can leave us discouraged, stressed, worried, or sometimes acting radically inappropriate.
Could it be that we are not escalating to dooms day but we are actually making progress? No doubt there are serious problems in parts of the world, but what about all the good?