By Brad Kropp
During the last few months, those of us on Council this year have been thinking about one particular phrase from the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. We’re doing it with an eye towards learning God’s will for Prince of Peace and, by the time this issue of The Proclaimer is out, we will have asked for the congregation’s input about this on Reformation Day.
While that has been happening, I’ve found myself getting sidetracked and a little depressed by an all-too-familiar question. Millions of Christians around the world say this prayer every day, so - look at the world news - why does it seem so clear that God’s will is not getting done on earth as it is in heaven??
A short while ago, I bought a book that proved to be an antidote to my thoughts. The book, Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future, was written by Swedish historian Johan Norberg. It serves up a lot of evidence that things are nowhere near as bad as we’re told they are - in fact, we are experiencing the greatest improvement in the human condition that has ever happened. A good example is the decline over time in violence world wide. Violence was so commonplace in early human societies that about 15% of people in hunter-gatherer groups died violently. Homicide rates in Europe were sky-high during the middle ages. Yet, homicides in Europe declined 30-40 fold between 1200 and 2000 AD. Likewise, genocide by conquering armies was practically routine throughout much of human history. It still happens, but it’s now the exception not the rule. We are shocked by the appalling punishments meted out by ISIS – but the good news is that such cruelty is uncommon enough nowadays that it shocks us. Punishments for crimes, even small ones, in medieval Europe were incredibly cruel and commonplace. Medieval people wouldn’t have been shocked by ISIS.
Similarly, the world has seen dramatic decreases in poverty over the last couple of centuries. The percentage of the world living in poverty fell from around 90% in 1820, when the average person lived at a level seen today only in countries like Haiti, to less than 10% in 2015. As recently as 1981, the vast majority of Chinese lived in poverty whereas only about 10% do today. And in sub-Saharan Africa, the extreme poverty rate (ie living on less that $1.90 per day) dropped from about 57% to 35% between 1990 and 2015. It can be argued that we are on the cusp of eliminating extreme poverty.
I haven’t finished the book yet but it goes on to talk about similar trends in food security, equality, and the environment. So, have I found an answer to my question? I think so. Bad stuff still happens, but overall I think that God’s will is being done; albeit slowly decade by decade. Things have gotten vastly better over time for humankind in spite of all the political rhetoric and negative news reports that we hear. An attack that kills two in Paris dominates headlines for days; millions of people arriving home safely at night to a full plate of food does not. We have a God who chooses to work through our hands, unreliable as they are. Across the span of generations, this goes unnoticed and it sputters from time to time but the trends are real.
This blog is run by the council members of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Logan, UT. For more information, check out our church's website at princeopeace.org.