Unrest, war, poverty and extreme ideological divides are multiplying around the globe. How did we get in this mess? Is there a way out?
Deep-seated divisions between Americans have taken center stage since the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States. While differences had been building for years, the relative calm and business-as-usual approach within the country is now seemingly forgotten as the media, citizens and international leaders try to figure out what the new administration is doing and what its effects will be upon the world.
It wasn’t like people didn’t see change coming. Stratfor analyst Rodger Baker explained: “If we step back from the politics of personality … we can see where and how Trump’s tactics fit into the evolution of U.S. policy as a whole. In Stratfor’s decade forecast for 2015-2025, we predicted two major elements in U.S. behavior moving forward: a partial disengagement from the international system, and a domestic political crisis triggered by the decline of the middle class.”
Baker also noted: “Neither of these behaviors was dependent on the outcome of any particular U.S. election; in fact, we identified them as trends that lie beneath the day-to-day vagaries of politics” (“The United States: Between Isolation and Empire,” Jan. 31, 2017).
During his campaign for office, President Trump tapped into these trends, focusing on economic prosperity, illegal immigration and national security in light of rising terrorism. His solutions for America’s problems include tightening immigration, securing the nation’s borders, renegotiating trade deals and reexamining the nation’s role abroad.
The new president’s efforts to implement his proposed remedies for these complex, divisive issues have been unsettling to many. The angst and disagreement over his efforts have led to protest rallies against the president inside and outside the country.
Unrest around the world
The turmoil in America mirrors what is happening in other parts of the world. People in the U.K. are trying to make the best of their Brexit vote to leave the European Union. Remaining EU nations face economic challenges and are being overrun with immigrants fleeing impoverished and war-torn areas. Hard-right political parties opposing immigration are gaining appeal and voice in many European countries.
In eastern Ukraine, Russian forces have continued to fight alongside separatist forces against the government. Neighboring nations wonder if anyone will assist them if Russia decides to invade their countries.
Moving to the Middle East, the civil war in Syria lingers on, and there appears to be no end to the sectarian conflict. Complicating the situation, the war is not just between the government forces and the rebels; it also includes the terrorist group ISIS, which controls large portions of the country. Russia supports the government forces of President Bashar al-Assad; the U.S. supports the rebels; and ISIS is intent on waging war against everyone who does not support it.
The Palestinian/Israeli conflict—which includes groups in Gaza that regularly launch rocket attacks into Israel and Israel, which regularly responds with retaliatory attacks—has continued since the formation of the State of Israel in 1948. While there has been reconciliation between Israel, Egypt and Jordan, no peace agreement has been reached between the Israelis and Palestinians—and none seems likely.
Many African nations are rife with political corruption and economic stagnation. North Korea threatens its neighbors and the Western world as a rogue nation with nuclear weapons. China is creating fear and distrust among nations with its economic might, currency manipulation and island building in the South China Sea.
So where are we?
Esteemed diplomat Henry Kissinger said: “The world is in chaos. Fundamental upheavals are occurring in many parts of the world simultaneously, most of which are governed by disparate principles” (Jeffrey Goldberg, “The Lessons of Henry Kissinger,” The Atlantic, December 2016, emphasis added throughout).
Yes, the world is in chaos. But where are things headed from here? Will the future be brighter or darker?
The National Intelligence Council, which provides long-term strategic analysis for the U.S. Intelligence Community, publishes an unclassified report every four years on the global trends that will affect the world over the next 20 years. Its most recent report, dated January 2017, anticipates weak economic growth that will challenge wealthy countries, exacerbate conditions for those living in poverty and spur migration from poor countries whose populations are growing.
The report also predicts that governing will become more difficult over the next two decades as nations strive to provide security and prosperity for their citizens. “Growing global connectivity amid weak growth will increase tensions within and between societies. … Religious influence will be increasingly consequential and more authoritative than many governments. …
“The risk of conflict will increase due to diverging interests among major powers, an expanding terror threat, continued instability in weak states, and the spread of lethal, disruptive technologies.” Bottom line: “These trends will converge at an unprecedented pace to make governing and cooperation harder” (“Global Trends: Paradox of Progress,” p. 6).
In short, the world is messier and more dangerous than ever. Disagreements, political polarization, fighting and human suffering abound. The future will be challenging.
What many people fail to consider is that the current state of the world is the result of choices. Humans made choices that got us in this current situation, and the choices we make today will affect our tomorrows. The biblical principle has it right. We reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7). “The curse causeless shall not come” (Proverbs 26:2, King James Version).
To make sense of the present and to foresee the future, we need to understand how humans make choices and God’s plan for His creation.
Where is God?
While many people don’t see a need for God or believe that He will control mankind’s future, the best hope humanity has for survival, peace and prosperity is found in the plan its Creator has for His creation.
While many people don’t see a need for God or believe that He will control mankind’s future, the best hope humanity has for survival, peace and prosperity is found in the plan its Creator has for His creation. God is often blamed for the loss of life in catastrophic events. “Where is God?” is a natural question in the face of extreme suffering. “How could a good God allow tragedies to occur?”
The painful truth is that God is not the cause of mankind’s suffering. Most often man is. Time and chance can be the reasons for a specific person’s suffering, but overall humanity brings suffering upon itself. Humans are the ones who chose evil from the beginning and who continue to choose ways of life that bring on suffering today. God is not responsible for the chaos in our world today.
So how did mankind start down this misguided path?
The story begins long ago with the first man and first woman in a place called the Garden of Eden. It’s a short read, but one with long-lasting consequences.
Why do people choose evil?
After creating Adam and Eve, God placed them in a garden that had two special trees—one called “the tree of life” and the other “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9). God told them not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (verses 16-17). Disobeying God’s instruction would lead to death.
God’s command was not punitive. He loved His creation, calling it “very good” (Genesis 1:31), and as for humanity, God made us in His “own image”—an indication of the unique and special position mankind had in God’s creation (verse 26). God also offered a great reward to Adam and Eve, represented by the tree of life, if they would obey Him. Eating the fruit of this tree would bring eternal life (Genesis 3:22).
It was obvious that God loved humanity. Considering these simple facts—the first humans were living in a beautiful environment and they could enjoy this forever if they would simply obey God’s instructions—obeying God was obviously the best choice.
But then things got complicated.
The serpent, “who is the Devil and Satan” (Revelation 20:2), came along and put a different spin on God’s instructions and motive. Making his pitch to Eve, the serpent countered God’s teaching that eating of the forbidden tree would lead to death by saying, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4-5).
The serpent accused God of being a liar and of trying to unnecessarily delay or prohibit mankind’s opportunity to be like God. Confused, and not knowing what to believe, Eve decided to investigate and make her own decision. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate” (verse 6)
So began humans’ exclusive reliance on their own reasoning and their disregard for God’s instructions. Sadly, humanity through the ages has followed and continues to follow Adam and Eve’s course of action. And history has shown God to be the One who told the truth and the serpent the one who was a liar and “murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44).
Just as God had said, Adam and Eve’s sin led to their deaths and their loss of access to the tree of life, which represented eternal life (Genesis 3:22-24). They were put out of the garden, and the consequences of their poor decision followed them for the remainder of their lives. Not only would they die, but their lives would include sorrow, pain and difficulty (verses 16-19).
What we can learn from Adam and Eve’s sin
The lessons from Adam and Eve’s tragic mistake in the garden are often repeated in the Bible. Eve’s example of being wise in her own eyes is countered by several proverbs. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). “Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil” (verse 7).
The prophet Isaiah encapsulated this mistake of trusting solely one’s own reasoning apart from God’s instructions when he wrote: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil. … Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!” (Isaiah 5:20-21).
Addressing this same proclivity, God said, “For My people are foolish, they have not known Me. They are silly children, and they have no understanding. They are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge” (Jeremiah 4:22).
Without the knowledge of the way of life that leads to peace and prosperity, the ancient peoples of Israel and Judah went into captivity. They paid a dear price for refusing to obey God’s commands.
Given the chaos, suffering and misery that inevitably accompany the rejection of God’s instructions, why haven’t humans today realized that their choices aren’t working? Why can’t they see what they are bringing upon themselves?
The reason the world is reeling in chaos and will continue its downward spiral is because humans have been blinded to the root cause of the problems. The “serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan … deceives the whole world” (Revelation 12:9; compare 2 Corinthians 4:4).
Thankfully, this spiritual blindness is “taken away in Christ” (2 Corinthians 3:14). There is a relatively small number of people who are responding to God’s call now and are thus able to see the true spiritual condition of the world and prepare to assist Christ at His return. They will help bring spiritual insight, healing and peace to our chaotic world.