I used to have a regular standing appointment with a widower in my congregation. We’d get together for coffee every Friday morning and we’d chat. I really enjoyed my conversations with this elderly gentleman. He had all sorts of interesting stories to share with me. He told me of how he was 16 years old and was in radio operator’s school for the Navy and that an officer walked into his class and asked for volunteers to be a torpedo bomber pilot. The US had just fought the battle of Midway and lost most of its torpedo bomber pilots. My congregant raised his hand, took a test, and he said, “Six months later I was 17 years old and flying off the deck of an aircraft carrier in the South Pacific!” Amazing. They don’t call that generation one of the greatest in our nation’s history for nothing. But one of the regular topics of conversation that came up was how much better things were in his day during the 1930’s and 40’s. I have to say that I’m envious of much of the culture that existed back then, but at the same time I’m not necessarily convinced that things were better in every respect.
Yes, I admit, culturally things look quite dim. Ethics no longer seem to matter—people do whatever they want and people go along with it. Few politicians keep their word, we see violence in the streets, the rich and the powerful take advantage of average working-class people, and we regularly witness all sorts of evil on the World Wide Web. But are things truly worse than they were a generation or two generations ago?
In comparison with earlier generations, we have a greater awareness of what’s going on in the world because of information highway. Two generations ago, people could only find out about bad things through the radio or their local newspaper. They typically did not hear about things going on around the world. Today, a child can fall down a well in remote China and people in Idaho can read about it, watch videos, and see pictures of the drama. I think much of our perception of the world gets shaped by our access to greater information. Moreover, we must remember that the news media is driven by money. News outlets want you to click on their sites so they can sell advertisements so they can make money. They won’t get you to click on their websites and watch their videos if they report that everything is peaceful in Poughkeepsie.
Case in point, as much as we might think things were better in the 30’s and 40’s, have we ever given thought to the idea that, sure, societally, certain sins might have been taboo, but that nations were killing people in the millions? Sixty million people were killed during World War II. During the Battle of the Bulge (Dec 16 – Jan 25), for example, Americans lost 75,000 casualties and the Germans lost somewhere between 80,000 – 100,000. Those are staggering numbers, to say the least. Right now, blessedly, we do not presently see violence at these levels.
This is not to say that I believe that things are somehow improving. On the contrary, I think that we have to realize that no period in the world’s history has ever been marked by perfection save for the pre-fall world. Ever since the fall sin has marked the world. No period in history has ever escaped the powerful clutches of sin. Sure, we might see brief periods of respite, or the repair of some areas of public ethics with the collapse of other areas. The world engaged in global war in the 1940’s which killed millions of people and now it does not presently do this. But on the other hand, now the world aborts millions of babies each year. According to one abortion website counter, since 1980 the world has aborted nearly 1.5 billion, yes, billion, babies. We see “progress” on one front (global war) and dramatic regress on another (abortion). The same pattern unfolds throughout history—look closely and you’ll find all sorts of evil—no period of world history escapes it.
All of this to say, we will never find paradise on earth. We will never legislate our way to peace. We may experience respites from evil and see certain social ills dissipate, but I suspect they only get replaced by other forms of evil. The only thing that will deliver us is the gospel of Christ and his return. Only when Christ comes in judgment will Satan, evil, and death meet their end and rise no more to wreak havoc on God’s good creation. With Paul we should say, “Maranatha, come quickly Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 16:22). Moreover, we should pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psa. 122:6) and the welfare of Babylon (Jer. 29:7). For in its welfare we will find our welfare. In other words, when we have peace we can more easily promote the gospel. Pray for these things—pray that regardless of the circumstances, in plenty or want, the church would be faithful to its divine commission (Matt. 28:28-20).