News headlines at the moment can make grim reading. Yet even in these anxiety-inducing times there are reasons to be hopeful, writes Gideon Heugh.
As fireworks heralded the start of 2020, people around the world hoped that it would be a year of good news. Barely a week later, it seemed like those hopes had been dashed.
Apocalyptic wildfires in Australia. Rising tensions between the US and Iran. Devastating flooding in Indonesia. Add to these the ongoing humanitarian crises in countries like Yemen, Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo – plus a growing climate emergency – and the outlook seems bleak.
How can we maintain our peace of mind at such a time? And is it possible that, even now, we can have hope?
The importance of perspective
Instant connectivity means that we’re bombarded with news like never before – we literally carry it around in our pockets. The media will often zero in on the worst news it can find, ensuring that it’s the first thing we see. This can skew our views about the state of the world towards the negative.
There has always been bad news; it’s part of being human in a broken world. Yet things seem far worse when we fail to see them in a deeper historical context, focusing only on our own narrow period of time. I often wonder how life must have been for my great-grandparents, who lived through two world wars of a scale and devastation that can be hard for other generations to even imagine.
To add to this problem, social media helps create a climate of hyper-anxiety. Complex issues are stripped of context and presented through a narrow lens. Misinformation can be spread instantly, and opinions are posted before the full facts are available. Following the US airstrike in Iraq on 3 January, the hashtag #WW3 was trending on Twitter, despite the possibility of a global conflict being incredibly remote. Fear gains a foothold quickly, even though it’s not often based on fact.
‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’
Martin Luther King Jr
The trajectory of history
Good news, on the other hand, has to fight to get through. The world is brimming with good news – it just doesn't get reported as much. At Tearfund, we encounter it all the time. From Bangladesh to Burundi, Cambodia to Colombia, we constantly hear uplifting stories as the local church empowers people in poverty to rise out of their circumstances.
Though it may not seem like it when we watch the news or scroll through our social media feeds, history has an upward trajectory. When we look through the lens of deep time, not just the current news cycle, we can see that things are getting better. As Martin Luther King Jr famously put it: ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’
We’re living in possibly the safest, stablest and most affluent time in human history. More than 1 billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty since 1990. Let that sink in.
Modern medicine has dramatically changed the lives of millions. Smallpox has been consigned to history, polio nearly eradicated, and rates of HIV infections are plummeting. Even Malaria, for so long one of the world’s biggest killers, is declining – according to the World Health Organisation, the number of people who die from the disease each year has nearly halved since 2000. In the early 1800s, it's estimated that there wasn't a single country in the world with an average life expectancy of more than 40. Today, the global average for life expectancy is 71.
The 20th century saw huge strides in the protection of human rights, particularly for women and marginalised groups. More recently, the climate crisis has finally made it into the public spotlight, paving the way for political action to be taken. While the situation may be grim, the recent widespread protests and school strikes show that a generation is rising up to ensure that it is no longer ignored.
The power of hope
This isn’t to suggest that there is not still great suffering in the world. Indeed there is, and this is why organisations like Tearfund exist – though we wish we didn’t have to. It is right that we should grieve and lament this brokenness, but this can be done from one of two postures: hope or despair.
Despair is a failure of imagination; it cannot see the possibility of a better world. And it ignores all the good that has been and will be done. Despair is dull, and it changes nothing. Worse still, it makes out that God is impotent, or at least absent. When we give in to despair, we are saying to the creator of the universe, ‘I don’t trust you.’
Hope, on the other hand, is powerful and potent and wild. Once it has been unleashed, it cannot easily be contained. When our grief for a suffering world is combined with hope, it leads to action. Hope is the force that drives on all positive movements for change.
'There may be a lot of reasons to feel afraid in 2020, but there is a much bigger reason not to be: our faith in Christ.'
Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ (Matthew 5:9). Peace does not have to be passive. We can all be peacemakers. We can choose to treat the people around us with kindness. We can choose to fight for justice. We can choose to bring love into our own spheres of influence.
All that is required for hope to take root is to make a decision. A decision to believe.
The name of peace
There may be a lot of reasons to feel afraid in 2020, but there is a much bigger reason not to be: our faith in Christ – the Prince of Peace, the light of humanity.
Instead of letting anxieties about the world consume us, we should bring them before God. When we lift up our worries in prayer, the Bible says that our hearts and minds will be guarded (Philippians 4:6-7).
Hope ignites when we turn our eyes to the one who has overcome the world (John 16:33). The one who gives us a spirit of love, not of fear (2 Timothy 1:7). The one whose hand is upon history (Daniel 2:21). The one whose burden is light (Matthew 11:30). The one who makes all things new (Revelation 21:5). The one whose name is peace and freedom and restoration.
When meeting the family of a girl who had just died, Jesus told them, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’ (Mark 5:36) Easier said than done, but we have to try. Because the world doesn’t need any more fear. What it needs is hope, and you can be its carrier.
Please pray with us
We turn to you, and in these seemingly turbulent times
we ask for the peace that passes understanding.
We lift up the issues that are distressing us most,
and pray for your power and influence upon them.
We ask that you will help each of us to be peacemakers,
in whatever small or large ways are possible.
And we ask for an outbreak of faith, hope and love,
both in our own hearts and around the world.
Read more stories of hope from around the world.