I created a bit of a stir on social media this week (unusual, I know) by making the following statement: “People who think the world is getting worse have very little understanding of history.” What ensued was a healthy and somewhat robust discussion that included a number of comments and Bible verses to suggest that my statement is wrong. Some “strongly disagreed”. Others proposed that we learn nothing from history, morality is at an all time low, today there is potential for more horrendous actions to take place such as a nuclear war and, the Bible talks about everything getting worse before Jesus returns.
I don’t disagree that the world of today is far from perfect. As Swedish doctor and world-renowned statistician Hans Rosling said, “You have to be able to hold two ideas in your head at once: the world is getting better and it’s not good enough!” Nonetheless, I still hold to my original statement: “People who think the world is getting worse have very little understanding of history.” People who think the world is getting worse view the world through the isolated lenses of the present and a misunderstanding of Bible prophecy.
When we look at the world in 2015 – especially if we simply rely on mass media – we get fed all the bad news and it’s easy to think that everything is awful and getting worse. When you listen to some preachers, or read certain books on Bible prophecy, you buy into a relatively modern understanding of end time events.
This relatively new approach to the interpretation of Bible prophecy is called dispensationalism. It was developed in 1827 by John Nelson Darby of the Plymouth Brethren and spread widely with the 1909 publication of the Scofield Reference Bible. Darby went on to be the founder of the Exclusive Brethren cult after George Mueller (and other Brethren) challenged him about some of his unbiblical doctrines. Charles Spurgeon also claimed these teachings were false.
These days much of the church has gained its understanding of Bible prophecy from novels and movies such as the Left Behind series. While these books make their authors a lot of money they do little to educate Christians about the historical understanding of the Book of Revelation and other prophetic Scriptures. As a result of this, much of the church is watching – and sometimes taking a rather gleeful longing – for an increase in war, natural disasters and signs in the sky like the blood moon that passed uneventfully this week.
So back to my statement, “People who think the world is getting worse have very little understanding of history.” It’s true. Let me give you some facts to back it up:
Since the late 1800s, life expectancy for Australians has increased by over 30 years. Today Australia ranks number 9 in the world. While many African countries still have a much lower life expectancy than Western nations things are still improving dramatically thanks to AID agencies many of which are Christian. Life expectancy across the world is over 30% higher today than it was in the 1960s.
In Jesus’ time most people were poor but over the centuries this has changed dramatically. Since the economic growth of industrialisation the number of people living in poverty has decreased – and has kept on falling ever since. The number of people living in poverty has decreased massively in the last twenty years. While there is still much to do we are winning the war on poverty; the world is getting better!
Fewer people are dying because of war. The number of people per million who have died in armed conflict dropped from 235 in 1950 to 2.5 in 2007, despite an increase in the number of smaller conflicts. Since WWII international conflict has decreased dramatically. Compared to prehistoric, pre-state and even medieval man, Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker argues, the world has become incredibly peaceful. “Violence has been in decline for thousands of years, and today we may be living in the most peaceable era in the existence of our species.” (Wall Street Journal)
There has also been a decrease in disease especially due to effective immunisation programs. Cancer rates are declining, the number of people with access to improved sanitation has increased by 50% since 1990; HIV and AIDS are in a slow retreat throughout the world. Africa has cut AIDS-related deaths by one third in the past six years.
Literacy rates have doubled in the last 100 years. Since the mid-19th century, global adult literacy rates have greatly improved, from an estimated 10% in 1850 to 84% today. Teen pregnancies are at an all-time low; IQ scores have risen 24 points since 1914; renewables now produce 22% of the world’s electricity; the ozone layer is making a recovery and worldwide gender inequality has reduced by 20% since 1995.
Studying history shows how much better the world has become and that is what we would expect as Jesus came to make the world a better place (Luke 4:18-19). The Kingdom of God is succeeding. I’m not saying the world is problem free, it’s not. However a study of history shows that the world is so much better today than it was when Jesus first stepped onto it and when He steps onto it again, He will make it perfect!