BreakPoint: The Importance of Good News

Headlines You’re not Hearing

It’s been a summer of rough news for America. Racism, riots, and political violence. Communities on the Gulf Coast continue wading through the devastation of hurricane Harvey, and now another storm is bearing down on Florida. We have plenty of reasons to be praying and doing all we can to alleviate suffering. There’s cause for grief about the news—but not for pessimism.

Writing at The Guardian, Oliver Burkeman suggests that despite a dragging civil war in Syria, heart-rending photos of drowned refugees, North Korea’s nuclear saber-rattling, disasters, terrorist attacks, and racial violence, the world is objectively better now than it’s ever been.

Hard to believe? Well, here are the facts: Swedish historian Mark Norberg breaks down global indicators of human flourishing into nine categories: food, sanitation, life expectancy, poverty, violence, the state of the environment, literacy, freedom, equality, and the conditions of childhood. And in nearly all of these categories, we’ve seen vast improvement in my lifetime.

Despite the fact that nine out of ten Americans say worldwide poverty is holding steady or worsening, the percentage of people on this planet who live on less than two dollars a day—what the United Nation’s defines as “extreme poverty”—has fallen below ten percent, which is the lowest it’s ever been.

The scourge of child mortality is also at a record low. Fifty percent fewer children under five die today than did thirty years ago.

Worldwide, 300,000 more people gain access to electricity every day. In 1900, global life expectancy was just 31 years. Today, it’s an impressive 71 years. And violent crime rates in the United States are the lowest they’ve been in half a century.

Nicholas Kristof wasn’t too far afield when he called 2016 “the best year in the history of humanity.” This year may see even more progress.

So why do these cheery pronouncements strike us as inaccurate—even outrageous? Why—according to a recent poll by YouGov—do a vanishingly small six percent of Americans think the world as a whole is becoming a better place?

Burkeman lays much of the blame on the press. Thanks to a 24-hour news cycle that actively seeks out and overplays the worst stories, our perception of the world is skewed. “We are not merely ignorant of the facts,” he writes. “We are actively convinced of depressing ‘facts’ that aren’t true.” And no wonder! It’s hard to sell papers and get Web traffic with good news. No one reports when a plane takes off. They only report when they crash.

But a great deal of the blame for our unjustifiably gloomy view of the world also falls on our shoulders. Quite simply, we often enjoy being angry about the state of the world, especially when it allows us to blame someone else. We are addicted to news-induced anger.

That’s why it’s so important—while acknowledging the desperate evil and suffering around us—to appreciate the good news, the progress, and the things we have to celebrate. After all, how can we truly comprehend what’s wrong with the world if we don’t recognize when something is going right?

War, famine, disease, and hatred should all remind us that God’s world, which He created and pronounced “very good,” is broken, and it’s our fault. But here’s the real comfort: It’s still—as the hymn says—our Father’s world. Let us therefore never forget that “though the wrong seems oft so strong God is the ruler yet.”

As Christians, we know where history is headed, and we know how the story ends—with the redemption and restoration of all things. We who have the good news should be the first to recognize all good news, not in spite of, but in the midst of the bad.

 

 

The Importance of Good News: Headlines You’re not Hearing

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

Resources

Is the world really better than ever?
  • Oliver Burkeman | The Guardian | July 28, 2017

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  • Sam Benito

    I love you, Eric, but I’m stunned that the sum of this calculus (i.e., that “the world is objectively better now than it’s ever been”) leaves abortion out of the equation altogether. The Guardian article claims “violence of all kinds” was factored in, but somebody left out the 1.5 billion (with a “B”) human beings eliminated by this procedure since 1980 ( www (dot) numberofabortions.com ). Might not acknowledgement of their violent deaths change the overall assessment?

    Also, are we talking about “Mark” Norberg, or Johan?

  • Just One Voice

    THANK YOU for this article! MUCH needed!

    I couldn’t agree more about the causes of pessimism, being angry about the news, etc.

    What more fitting verse, too, than Philippians 4:8!

  • Andrew L

    Unfortunately, it is also very obvious that the spiritual state of Western society is in free-fall. The indicators you have noted here only demonstrate a secular-humanist perspective of “progress”. It seems extraordinary to me that any Christian could regard the current state of our world only from what are, essentially, materialistic criteria. What about the massive breakdown of the family unit, the dominance of pornography and perversion, the scourge of abortion, the prevalence of sexual deviance and promiscuity, consumerism and greed, disloyalty and irresponsibility, etc, etc, etc. Whilst I understand that your concern here is the negative false impressions created by a ratings-driven media, it is misleading, if not delusional, to assume that such data as you have described should convince us that things are not as bad as we being persuaded to think. Frankly, in spiritual terms, they are actually much, much worse!

    • Paul McCosby

      I would just like to note that, as you point out, this article talks about news sources bad-news-bias. It is worth bringing attention to, however that such news stories are rarely about the moral problems you mention but are instead about the same areas which this article states are actually improving.

    • jason taylor

      You can usually find precedent enough to much of many such things to make, “much, much worse” a doubtful proposition.

    • The Porg

      Andrew, thank you for sharing this. I couldn’t agree more.

  • gladys1071

    I look forward to the restoration of all things myself. I look forward to a time where their will be no more tears, no more sin, no more death.

  • Nate Rollins

    I am scheduled to give a sermon at the Feast of Tabernacles this year and I was thinking on what to talk about when I read this article. This topic of good news has always been a jewel for me as I look around and see the calamity and hatred in the world. I know that God’s children are to keep watch, but I see “us” too often following the media’s example of sensationalism. We are not encouraged by God to share with each other all of the evil we see. Ezek 9 leads us to sigh and cry – not to each other, but to God. In Gen 18, God told Abraham of the outcry He’d heard… Who told Him? I believe it is our job to pray to God about the bad things and, as the “Next Steps” at the end of Eric’s article infer, our job is to think on – or DWELL on things that are true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, reputable, excellent and praiseworthy. 1Thes5:11 tells us to encourage one another.

  • Kelly L. Mosher

    Needed this, thank you!

  • Sam Benito

    Yeah, Nate, that was kind of my thought: that in the same way former generations would ooh and ahh at the pyramids and plantation mansions and other impressive wonders of human enterprise, ignoring the fact that they were built on the backs and cruelly-taken lives of countless victims of selfish ambition and injustice, so today we appear to tally the “benefits” derived from the murderous elimination of billions of unwanted pre-borns without giving due consideration to the price we’re paying with our humanity to enjoy those benefits. A heavenly calculus that values a single human life above “many sparrows” raises the question that, to my mind, is more germane to this discussion: “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

  • Jeffrey Wurtz

    I agree with “But a great deal of the blame for our unjustifiably gloomy view of the world also falls on our shoulders.”

    I’d like Breakpoint to publish more good news instead of publishing so much bad news.