To many, it seems the world has never been more violent or chaotic than it is today. That’s only because we haven’t been around very long! No doubt, things have been better in previous years. They’ve also been worse.
The flu that rocked the USA this winter was unprecedented- except that it wasn’t. In 1918, a flu outbreak infected just about 1/3 of the global population, resulting in 20 – 50 million deaths worldwide, and 675,000 in the US alone. In the 14th Century, the Black Death killed 30 – 60% of the population of Europe. Now that’s a pandemic!
The United States is more polarized and divided than we’ve ever been- except for 1861 when the Civil War broke out and Americans literally spent four years killing each other on battlefields across the land. The years leading up to the war were marked by public insults, deadly massacres, and fistfights on the Senate floor. There have been other times when American politics were brutal as well; we just don’t remember.
Has there ever been a time when sexual behavior was so flagrant, so common, and so openly embraced? Well, a brand new biography describes German society in 1525 when even conservative Christians were expected to celebrate their new new marriage by having witnesses present for their first act of copulation. This particular biography was about Martin Luther, no less, and was written by Eric Metaxas.
The violent death of seventeen students in Broward County last week was profoundly tragic and could have been prevented. But it doesn’t reflect a growing trend. To the contrary, school shootings are incredibly rare, and have been declining since the 1990’s. Without a doubt, they should break our hearts and move us to act, but they don’t really mean that American classrooms have become war zones.
If we are victims at all, we are victims of a 24/7 news cycle, dishonest social media, and corrupt politicians who will say anything to fire up their base. But we have not yet arrived at an historic catastrophe like no other! In fact, most of us have never experienced any crisis that was unprecedented- not the Kennedy Assassination, not 9-11, not the most recent school shooting in Broward County. The Y2K global computer crash might have been unprecedented had it actually happened back at the turn of the century, but it failed to materialize.
It’s natural to be sad, even shocked when tragedies unfold. And the Beatitudes remind us that the godly should mourn the impact of sin on the lives of people around us. But the instant outrage so popular today always makes things worse. Not only do we lack perspective; in the first 72 hours, we don’t even have all the facts. And the strident tone of our debates makes meaningful, constructive discussions impossible.
Scripture reminds us that human beings are like the grass or the flowers of the field- here today and gone tomorrow. We can’t be sure that anything we have experienced is unprecedented- except, of course, the love of God. Nobody else ever created a universe or populated it with beloved human beings. No one else ever sent his son to die on a cross in exchange for a way to being grace and wholeness to a sinful world. Nobody else ever fashioned an eternal kingdom and invited people like you and me to live there forever.
Emotions are deceptive and memories are unreliable. But the love of God means that every day is filled with opportunity. The depravity and destructive power of evil is always present. Yet because of God’s love, each morning is filled with new mercies.
A little perspective goes a long way. Lift up the Cross.