Well, 2020 is proving to be quite the year although I’m not sure it would come close to the top-10 all-time terrible years, but we’re only halfway through, so you never know. I’ve been thinking about the dissonance between books like Hans Rosling’s Factfulness and thinkers like Steven Pinker or the new (but not read by me) book by Rutger Bregman that argues that people have evolved to be fundamentally decent and the way we experience the world right now. It reminded me that the West is essentially a large gated community and if you exist within that world and the problems and perceptions are considerably different to those that exist outside those gates.
It is inevitably easier to make a list of all the things that are going wrong than the things that are going right and that’s part of the reason why I’ve taken the easy route.
It’s a planetary problem that we’re trying to fix with local solutions. Some countries have managed to go coal-free while others are more dependant than ever. We might have electric trucks and new forms of plastic but our technological advance brings environmental damage – we have made our mark and left our scars. We’re happy to recycle but less happy to reduce. Our righteousness is plastic.
Wars and rumours of wars
India and China are facing off in the Himalayas. Pakistan & India are squabbling about Kashmir. North Korea threatens South Korea. There are proxy wars in Syria & Yemen. Russia still has it’s illegal annexation of the Crimea from Ukraine. Afghanistan and Iraq remain dangerous places. Don’t forget insurgencies in Nigeria, Somalia, the Sahara, Libya. The drug wars in Mexico are as deadly as any. Flashpoints exist over Taiwan, an expansionist China & Russia, Iran and, of course, there’s always Israel. And there are more nuclear weapons and less nuclear controls than ever before which is a problem. Who knows maybe these will get a reprint? If anyone thinks war has gone for good, they’re very naive. The future could be worse when the first ‘shots’ fired will be your power going off (& staying off).
There are still around 750 million people living in extreme poverty and hundreds of millions more living in awful but not what rich people call ‘extreme’ poverty. Just you know, the less extreme poverty that we’re all so fond of. If you think the numbers are improving then think again. And the global recession this year is likely to push hundreds of millions of people into poverty for a couple of decades.
Although we’re in a global pandemic none of the other diseases that were killing us has taken a holiday. They’re still at work. And whatever benefits a few might perceive in lockdown they are likely to be short-lived. Plus this pandemic probably has a year or more to go and it is the elderly that is taking the brunt of it.
Plus locust plagues, violence against women, racism, sex trafficking, horrific child abuse, corruption, violence, abortion, suicide, persecution and more and it’s no wonder that people are googling prayer. What surprises me is that the idea of God as a judge or the idea of hell should be so difficult to comprehend?
But in the light of all these huge problems, we should acknowledge that at the very least our list of priorities can sometimes seem a little off. We have a little trouble working out what to do against this backdrop of a world in permanent distress. We’ve spoken up against racism, and many (but not all) speak out on abortion and the church does a pretty decent job of engaging with the issue of poverty. We might point out how faith helps against loneliness and despair and of course, remind of the hope of heaven.
This is, in part, because a local church deals with individual people and not global problems – there’s only so much railing about governmental corruption in Africa that you can do in Surbiton. So instead churches focus on what they can influence: marriage, parenting, or say hospitality. There’s nothing wrong with those issues – the Gospel speaks to all of life but I wonder if we don’t quite know how it speaks to the big issues as well as the small. If you’re in an evangelical church, I imagine it’s been a while since the sermon made you think about pacifism or peacemaking.
Although the sermon (especially if your church only offers one of those a week) may not be the right place for some of that thinking, but it does make me wonder if we don’t need some more thinking and speaking out on some of those issues and robustly relate it to biblical faith. That last bit will be important to avoid the inevitable evangelical fretting about a social gospel as if a gospel that doesn’t actually change anything outside of the home is a gospel worth having.
As the church disciples Christ’s people we must continue to cast a vision of transformed hearts, homes and of the church as a sanctuary and a place of healing from the distress & pain in the world but also as a training base for action in a world that needs hope.