“These are troubled times,” my pastor lamented not long ago. Most of the heads in the congregation nodded in agreement.
Can they be serious? A look at the past tells us that by comparison, we live in the best of times.
But that doesn’t stop us from complaining. It grates on my nerves to hear people (sometimes even myself) complain about how tough we have it now.
A local radio DJ went on at length about some of our modern woes: rising home foreclosures, joblessness, fluctuating gas prices. And yes, these are problems. But his closing remark was nothing short of insane: “Man, I sure picked a bad time to be born.”
A bad time to be born? Really? Even in the midst of a severe recession, we have it better than most any people at any time in human existence.
Today, Americans of modest means can expect to live in a house with running water, heat in winter, and nutritious food all year long. We take holidays, and can visit friends and family hundreds of miles away… either by driving their own car or actually flying through the air.
And if that weren’t enough, we don’t have to worry about their kids succumbing to diseases like smallpox, malaria or the bubonic plague.
Would that DJ prefer to live in the opulent court of King Louis the XIV? Even the nobility had to contend with a 50% child mortality rate, rampant disease, and travel limited to bumpy unheated carriages or ships that sailed with the vagaries of the wind. Don’t even think about on-time percentages here. Travel time was measured in weeks, not minutes.
And then there’s the basic measure of prosperity. The Bible describes the good life as living to harvest the fruits of your own vineyard. Today, we take the ability to own property, to enjoy to fruits of our own labor, as a given. It’s not.
Tribes of humans have been pushing each other off their land on a regular basis for thousands of years. That has been the standard operating procedure in every corner of the globe for all of recorded history. It’s still happening in parts of the world today. But in the United States, we haven’t had to worry much about invading armies taking livestock and burning our crops and houses since the Civil War.
So maybe that DJ wanted to live after the threat of invading armies. Perhaps during the “good old days” at the turn of the 20th century? That was no picnic, either. Most people still didn’t have indoor plumbing, central heat or decent food or medical care.
How about the “Happy Days” of the 1950s? New prosperity abounded. Due to housing shortages, people waited years to get their own houses, which were about half the size of the average house today. One bathroom. No air conditioning. One TV with a screen the size of a TV dinner. Two or three channels. No remote. And forget DVDs, electronic games, cell phones and other things we can’t seem to live without in these “troubled” times.
The fact is, today we enjoy greater comfort and greater security than any society before us.
Yes, there are new threats like the Swine flu and terrorists boarding airplanes with bombs in their underwear. But let’s put this in perspective. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that between April and October 2009, some 2,500-6,000 Americans died from causes related to the H1N1 virus. By contrast, the flu epidemic of 1918 killed nearly 600,000 Americans—more than 10 times as many.
Which decade would you rather be living in?
The problem is that while we live in the most comfortable time in history, and we may be as secure as humanly possible, we still don’t feel secure. That’s because manmade security can fail. The sturdiest house can crumble in an earthquake. Medical science doesn’t always have the answers. Banks fail, companies go bankrupt and, dare I say it, currency can be devalued. Ultimately, the only unfailing source of security comes from God.
He does not promise to protect us from all troubles, but He does promise to give us the strength to face whatever comes. “Do not fear,” says Isaiah 41:10, “for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you.”
So if you think we live in “troubled times,” think again about where you can find true security. And thank God for the many blessings we enjoy every day, and don’t even bother the think about.