I read a fascinating article in The Economist this week on the prevalence of pessimism. 71% of people in Great Briton think the world is getting worse; only 5% think it’s getting better. Although the global poverty has fallen by half in the past 20 years, only 5% of Americans believe this is true. The writers attribute much of this pessimism to the fact that we as humans don’t rely on data for our perceptions, we rely on examples for our sense of what’s going on. As the article states: “Famines, Earthquakes and Beheadings” all make gripping headlines. “40 Million Planes Landed Safely Last Year” does not.
This negativity matters for many reasons, but chief among them is that it is hard to be charitable, generous, or self-sacrificing when we are afraid. Our first responses in fear are fight or flight, yet the Gospel of our Lord always calls us to the third way of engagement.
Engagement calls us to get beyond our fears and anxieties to see what is actually happening on the ground, in our cities, and to gain accurate information about the condition of all God’s people across the globe. For example, the article points out that “In 1820, 94% of humanity subsisted on less than $2 a day in modern money. That fell to 37% in 1990 and less than 10% in 2015.” And there are advances in medicine, clean water, a decline in the caste system in India and so on. Despite the headlines, “the average European is ten times more likely to die by falling down the stairs than to be killed by a terrorist.”
Yes, we have enormous problems and serious issues to deal both in the USA and worldwide. But let us remember that despair is a sin. We as Christians believe in God who has promised to make the world right. Although we may forget that this movement is happening, it is among us despite the headlines. Therefore, we are to be people of hope and know the goodness of the Lord. Then we can be part of God’s movement to make the world right.
As the sweet poet George Herbert wrote, “Away Distrust—My God hath promised and He is just.”