Is The World Really Getting Darker?
This is the question I was recently asked to address to a gathering of year 9 school students. Before I could address this question though, I needed to share some insights into how we generally answer such objections to Christianity. Before we answer a question like this we have to identify the propositions within the question. This particular question has two propositions- since it assumes something about God, and something about the world in which we live.
For a question to be reasonable its propositions must be true. For example, a question like, “Why do all criminals chew gum?” assumes that all criminals chew gum. Another example might be “If God created everything, who created God?” This question assumes that everything (including God) has been created- when logic demands that something must be eternal (it has always existed) since it is illogical that something could spring from nothing.
IS GOD LOVING AND POWERFUL?
Is God loving and powerful? The Scriptures clearly assert this. “God is love!” goes way beyond this modest understatement that God is loving. He is note merely loving: He is love. “Nothing is impossible with God” the Scriptures proclaim. He is indeed powerful as His exclusive right to the title “Almighty” suggests. It’s worth noting however that the Biblical statement “Nothing is impossible with God” is not the same as saying “Anything is possible with God” since there is at least five things the Scriptures state God cannot do (lie, sin, be unfaithful, change, cease to be). This proposition in the question is reasonable with one qualification though…
It is wrong to think of God’s love and power as the same as “Santa Claus”. Just as many people have deified the modern myth of Santa Claus, the traffic seems to flow in both directions in a Christianised Western Culture when it comes to society’s understanding of “God”. That is, our culture has Santa-Claus-ied God – making him a jolly old grandfather figure who likes to do nothing more than to give give give to nice people. Santa Claus doesn’t judge anyone. Santa Claus isn’t near (apologies to those in Alaska and Greenland). Santa Claus isn’t relevant to daily activities. Thus, Western Culture has a theology of God akin to their theology of Santa Claus- God won’t judge anyone. God is transcendent (not near). God is not relevant.This faulty theology then encounters tragedy, suffering, and death and concludes that either “God” doesn’t exist (because a Santa-Claus-God wouldn’t allow such evil) or He isn’t what He claims to be (He’s not really loving and powerful). But a Biblical theology of a loving and powerful God sees His plan, His purpose achieved for our good through whatever circumstances He deems necessary. Let me illustrate…
It is wrong to assume that God exists for our comfort. This theology regards the meaning of life as the pursuit of ease and comfort. But the Scriptures state that it is God’s purpose for us to “grow up”. At what times in your life have you grown the most? For most people it is never during times of ease and comfort. This was powerfully presented to me recently when I heard a man share his story from ease to evil. He was a healthy easy-going church attender when he was struck down with a disease in his legs. His condition deteriorated so rapidly that he had to have both his legs amputated above his knees. He became despondent about life and thoroughly disappointed with the God he had worshiped who had now let him down so desperately. But his disappointment soon became anger and abandonment. This corresponded to his deepest days of depression when in despair he attempted suicide. Spared from this undignified end, he cried out to God. Over time he re-acquainted himself with the God of the Bible and found that the God he thought was like Santa Claus was actually not the God revealed in Scripture. He continued to cry out to God and became thoroughly dependent upon Him. The sweetness of His relationship with God became more valuable to him than legs. He said, “It took the loss of my legs for me to realise just how much I lived without God. If God now offered me a new pair of legs I don’t think I could accept them! I actually now thank God for bringing me closer to Him.” We must think of God’s love as the ultimate desire for our best. Nothing God does is contrary to this divine trait.
But if God is so loving and only wants our best, how could there possibly be evil in the world? But not only evil, growing evil! There is no doubt that there is evil in this world. There is a lot of evidence to support this proposition that there is evil in the world. Indeed, the Bible’s opening chapters describe evil entering the world through the temptation of Adam and Eve by Satan and their subsequent rebellion.
The evidence for evil in the world is not hard to see. Crime, environmental vandalism, terrorism, wars, ethnic dispersement and persecution, poverty, disease, and disasters. Some recent crimes, such as the well publicised High School and College massacres, can only be described as “evil”. In fact, publicising evil seems to be what media outlets love to either report or sensationalise. It’s therefore not surprising that this has led to the impression among some that our world is becoming more evil. But is it?
Are there more wars today than ever before? Are there more people committing crimes today than ever before? Is Third-World (or “The Two Thirds of the World”) poverty getting worse? It seems though that some Christians have a vested interest in highlight how evil the world is. Many Christians have been taught that the Bible teaches that the world is going to get more evil. Most of this understanding is based on the Biblical statements referring to “the last days”.
But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come:
Second Timothy 3:1
The assumption is made that the Biblical expression “the last days” refers to the last days of the world. Curiously though, the expression “end of the world” no where appears in Scripture! (You will find the geographical expression: the ends of the world/earth though.) Millions of books have been sold which promote this doomsday/Armageddon teaching.
But, the Biblical expression “the last days” refers to the last days of the Old Covenant which was made obsolete at the Cross but finally done away with in 70AD with the destruction of the Temple.
In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.
The period from the Cross to the destruction of the Old Covenant Temple is referred to in the New Testament as “the end of the age” or the “the end of the ages” (1Cor. 10:11). That was period of time in which the Anti-Christ, the Tribulation, and judgment on Jerusalem was to take place (note Matthew 24:34). The idea that these prophecies will be fulfilled again is without Biblical merit. Therefore the idea that the Bible teaches or predicts that the world will become increasingly evil towards the end of time is not necessarily supportable from Scripture. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be evil in the world since the heart of natural man is in rebellion against God (Jer. 17:9). But, the work of Christ and His Spirit in the earth today is being spread through the preaching of the Good News so that individuals and even entire communities are being transformed. It is the leaven of the Kingdom of God on earth-
Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened.”
We need to question the second proposition within our question. Is the world really getting more evil? Part of the problem in answering this question is how we understand what we mean by the word: world. We all live in two worlds. We live in our world (our friends, our family, our work, our home, our neighborhood, our problems) and the world in which we are all citizens. We find it difficult to think beyond our own worlds. When we are doing well it is almost inconceivable that most people in the world may not be doing as well as us. Similarly, when we are not doing well because of some evil inflicted upon us, it is very hard for us not to think of the world getting more evil. It may come as a complete surprise to people to learn that global crime statistics are not rising relative to populations, or that there really aren’t more wars, or victims of at the moment relative to global population. This is despite what constantly appears in the media where the viewer would be left wondering if wars, acts of terrorism, and environmental vandalism were all teaming up to destroy the world within our lifetime!
But these things, while bad and potentially evil, are not the only things happening in the world today. In fact, for the Christian who regards Jesus Christ as Lord of the Earth and His Mission unstoppable, there should be evidence to support this Biblical position which is founded on the words of Christ where He said that He had been given ‘complete authority in heaven and on earth‘ (Matthew 28:18).
IS THERE EVIDENCE THAT THE LIGHT OF CHRIST’S LORDSHIP IS OVERCOMING THE DARKNESS OF GLOBAL EVIL?
Consider the impact of Christ by the end of the First Century. Christianity is highlighted as the yellow area around the Mediterranean Sea-
Consider the growth of the influence of Christ and His teachings on the globe by its growth up to the twentieth century-
Is the world getting more evil? It might seem like it according to tonight’s TV News, but this is not necessarily supported by the evidence. While there will always be evil in the hearts of natural man until Christ’s Spirit removes that evil heart and creates within them a new heart, there is good reason based on Scripture and history that the leaven of Christ’s teaching will continue to make this world a better place. History tells us that many, if not most, of the major humanitarian efforts that have advanced human welfare (Schools, Hospitals, Hospices, Relief Agencies, Medical Missions, Poverty Relief) have resulted from people seeking to apply the teachings of Christ. This has been most effective where it has been accompanied with the preaching of the Good News about the Kingdom of God- calling people to new life in Christ.
When I asked the gathering of Year 9 students who believed that the world was getting more evil, they all raised their hands. When I asked who would rather be alive at a different time in history, none (except for one young lady who longed to live in the courts of Queen Elizabeth the First!) said that they would rather have lived at a different time. This is very telling. The world is a better place today because of Christ coming into it. Despite claims by opponents of Christianity that religion has been the root of “all wars” the facts say otherwise. Wars, the Bible says, are the result of human selfishness (evil). All wars have been for this reason- not the teachings of Christ! The reality is that world has been made a better place because of those who follow the commands of Christ. And as we advance into the future we have the very real possibility of furthering the cause of Christ on earth through bringing Good News to poor, healing to the sick, education to the underprivileged, justice to the oppressed, peace on earth and goodwill toward all men.
Of all people, Christians should be the most confident about the future getting brighter.
Dr. Andrew Corbett, July 10th 2007