We hear from many American Christians who seem to be losing hope. They’re not necessarily losing hope in their ultimate salvation; but they are filled with dread about the future.
There’s plenty of reason to be concerned. In the United States, we’re still feeling the effects of the financial crisis that rocked the world in 2008. We see moral decay all around us. Every day we read about civil unrest in the US and around the world. Many well-informed observers expect to see financial collapse in Greece or perhaps Italy within the year. If that happens, it could lead to a cascade of events that would plunge the world into a deep recession.
Our federal government is borrowing and spending money with more reckless abandon than any government in history. In 2004, our total public debt was around $7 trillion. That’s how much debt we had accumulated since America’s founding—230 years ago. Seven years later, in early 2011, we doubled that number![i] We will pass $15 trillion before the end of the year, and may already have done so.
In light of these facts, more than one well-known Christian leader argues that collapse is inevitable, and that the most we can do is slow it down a bit so that we have a little more time to win souls for Christ.
But we should resist such “counsels of despair.” We are commanded over and over again in Scripture to have hope, not just about our ultimate destination, but also about the future. The prophet Jeremiah had the unenviable task of telling the citizens of Jerusalem that they would be carried off into exile in Babylon. Nevertheless, he also delivered this message from God: “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
Centuries later, when Jesus wept over the fate of Jerusalem, He said, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Luke 13:34) He knew of the coming desolation when not a stone would be left upon the other. And yet the only thing that prevented Jerusalem from coming under His protection was that it refused to do so. Even in the moment of judgment, God’s heart is to forgive and restore, if only we will run to him.
Hopelessness can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If millions of believers decide that all is lost, retreat into a shell, and await the Lord’s return, they could help bring about the very thing they dread! We don’t know when the Lord will return, so we have no business telling people that decline is inevitable. This is still God’s world and we are its stewards. He has given each of us some responsibility for our culture and our country. That hasn’t changed just because times are tough. It’s in times like these that we must remember the words of the great Dutch statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper. “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence,” he wrote, “over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
Hopelessness also clouds our judgment and makes us susceptible to doomsday scenarios. One of the more popular and sophisticated doomsday scares right now is called The Crash Course by Chris Martenson. Many thousands of people saw The Crash Course as an online lecture; but Martenson now has a book by the same name.
A number of people have asked us our opinion of Martenson’s arguments, so we spent some time studying it. We should say upfront that it includes some important warnings about the dangers of deficit spending and of consuming more than we produce and save. Martenson is on solid ground when he’s talking about these economic issues. But his overall argument includes unfounded assumptions about energy, resources, and human population.
For instance, Martenson claims that the human population is growing exponentially and that we have already surpassed the so-called “total carrying capacity” of the earth. Over and over, he shows a chart that shows population growth throughout history. On the chart, there is a horizontal line staying more or less level for most of human history, and then suddenly, starting about the time of the industrial revolution, and the line curves upward until it goes almost straight up. This is called a “hockey stick” curve, because it looks like a hockey stick resting on its side. The upward line represents the huge increase in human population that has occurred in the last few hundred years.
Now there was a time back in the 1800s when human population was growing exponentially. This is when Thomas Malthus made his famous prediction that humans would soon outstrip their supply of food, leading to worldwide famines. Malthus’s predictions were wrong, but that hasn’t prevented other prophets of doom from repeating the same basic argument over and over.
If you already feel hopeless about the future, it’s easy to fall for such an argument, especially when they look scientific. But there are good reasons to be skeptical.
First of all, no one knows what the earth’s “total carrying capacity” is, so we have little basis for saying we’ve passed it.
Second, human population is not growing exponentially. It is following a so-called S curve, not a hockey stick. It was stable for hundreds or even thousands of years. Then, with the industrial revolution, human population started growing rapidly. But now it’s leveling off. Europe and Japan have such low fertility rates that they are not even replacing their current population. Fertility rates in other, less developed countries are also declining. Even the UN now recognizes this. They predict worldwide population growth to level off at 2050 and then decline thereafter. So fears about overpopulation are more unfounded now than they were when Malthus made his original, incorrect, prediction of worldwide famine over a hundred and fifty years ago.
Third, Martenson, like Malthus, treats human beings largely as consumers of resources. But we aren’t just mouths. Sure, we must consume air, water, and food to survive, but we can also create. We have hands and minds. We are made in the image of the Creator. In free societies, we can produce more than we consume. Because of innovations in grain hybrids and farm techniques, for instance, California alone could grow enough grain to feed the world if necessary.
Does that mean we have nothing to worry about? No. We argue in our forthcoming book Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late that we should be able to meet our future energy and resource needs—as long as our economy is free. What we should worry about is the fiscal insanity from our federal government. Rather than collapsing in a pool of tears and hopelessness, however, we need to pray, trust God, and get busy. It’s still possible to correct our course, but every day we wait will make that correction more painful. We must do our best to persuade our fellow citizens to support politicians with the courage to do what needs to be done. As individuals and families, we cannot survive long term if we consume more than we produce. The same principle holds for the federal government as well.
[i]You can watch U.S. debt grow in real time, at www.usdebtclock.org