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A Better Year

2019 was the best year in human history.

I gave you a chance to swallow hard and recover from the shock of that opening paragraph. I certainly had to as I considered the theme for this first column of the new year. It does seem to me, and to many of my cherished friends, that 2019 was an extraordinarily challenging year. As a friend said to me in a post-Christmas phone call in which we discussed yet another tragic family event, “It’s been a pretty awful year for this family.” And you may be feeling the same way. But Nicholas Kristof, in a New Year’s Eve column for the New York Times, opened with the following:

“In the long arc of human history, 2019 has been the best year ever. The bad things that you fret about are true. But it’s also true that since modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago, 2019 was probably the year in which children were least likely to die, adults were least likely to be illiterate, and people were least likely to suffer excruciating and disfiguring diseases.

Every single day in recent years, another 325,000 people got their first access to electricity. Each day, more than 200,000 got piped water for the first time. And some 650,000 went online for the first time.

Perhaps the greatest calamity for anyone is to lose a child. That used to be common: Historically, almost half of all humans died in childhood. As recently as 1950, 27 percent of all children still died by age 15. Now that figure has dropped to about 4 percent.” (New York Times, 12-31-2019)

Kristof goes on to catalogue other major advances for the global village. He also quotes the economist Max Roser, who sums things up pretty realistically: “Three things are true at the same time. The world is much better, the world is awful, the world can be much better.”

All of this serves as a reminder that, in the midst of the chaos and pain, God is still at work in the world. I have often pointed out that all humans are plagued by myopia, both intellectually and spiritually. We simply do not and cannot see the fullness of what God is doing in the world or even in our personal lives. Our daily prayer in 2020 should be for eyes to see, faith to persevere, and the commitment to make the world a better place one day at a time.

2019 was a better year than I thought. May 2020 be, by God’s grace, even better.

Rev. Don Underwood