You know what kind of news day it is when the most optimistic part of the whole newscast comes from Afghanistan. But that's the way it was a few nights ago with Jim Lehrer's NewsHour.
The lead story was a report on how the anti-Taliban forces appeared to be closing in on Osama bin Laden and on his top aide, Mullah Omar. It was an upbeat report-although the context was pretty grim. Already, the victors in this terrible war were showing how hard it's likely to be for them to get along in the future. Impoverished widows and orphans are everywhere in Afghanistan, but not nearly as many of them now as there probably will be. "It's a tough, tough world," I thought.
But the world got several degrees tougher with the next story-a report on the intensification of Palestinian terrorism against Israel, and Israel's tough response. Here's a sad story that never quits. If you were an editor wanting to work ahead on a front page story for a month from now, a year from now, a decade or even a century from now, just do a headline about the conflict between Arabs and Jews. One huge difference, however, as the year 2002 dawns over Jerusalem is that Islam's reputation as a source for political terrorism has now taken on such somber new dimensions. Another difference is that even after millennia of conflict, resolution appears not closer but farther away. Last week's newscast suggested that Armageddon might be right around the corner. "It is frightening beyond words," said one of the panelists-and nobody ventured to disagree.
The third story on the news that evening featured the hopeless challenge facing the U.S. Postal Service as it tries to protect a mountainous stream of mail against bioterrorists. Here's the terrifying reality: A technological system designed to move more than a billion pieces effectively through the mail stream every day is, by its very nature, also wonderfully designed to spread terrible diseases throughout a population. I found myself glumly hoping-for the very first time in my life-for new inefficiencies on the part of the USPS.
The final story featured the continuing onslaught of AIDS, threatening millions of people these days in Africa and Asia. In more and more countries, 15 percent to 35 percent of the male population carry a virtual death sentence. (Here, in a time when Islam gets little good press, is a startling fact not mentioned that evening on PBS: The AIDS crisis in Africa is for all practical purposes restricted to "Christian" Africa. The reported incidence among Muslim populations tends to be tiny by comparison.) Many of us have been lulled into complacency with the assumption that medical advances have blunted the AIDS assault. But in fact, the disease's devastation continues to march around the globe, victimizing tens of millions as it goes, and still looking for anything resembling a cure.
And that's the way it was, that evening on the news-a video montage of our collective human fallenness, with a connecting thread reminding us how far each of those evils extended beyond human taming. There was the insistence on carrying a grudge, century after bitter century. There was modern technology, brilliantly conceived for our good but turned against us in unexpected ways. There too was the betrayal of society's glib promises to all who seek sensual license in our generation, and a monumental demonstration that God's basic rules will never be successfully flaunted.
All that in just one newscast-and all so dreadfully downbeat that, as I said earlier, it made the news from Afghanistan that evening sound almost cheery.
That evening's newscast, of course, wasn't all that unusual. It could have been almost any evening during the year 2001. For that matter, it could have been almost any evening during your lifetime. Bad news is part of the human condition. And since September, some folks would say the meter has flickered only between bad and terrible.
Those of us at WORLD magazine, however, are not so pessimistic. World events, we believe, are headed in either of two directions-and both are ultimately good.
On the one hand, things might get better. The Jews and the Palestinians might finally settle their differences. The post office might devise a way not only to protect against terrorists using the mail, but even to deliver WORLD promptly. A cure for AIDS might be discovered, and people might learn to disdain sexual promiscuity. Afghanistan might be transformed by the Christian gospel. And around the world, people might be persuaded that God's standards are as good as His people have always claimed.
Or things might seem to get even worse than they were in 2001. There might be earthquakes, wars, rumors of wars, droughts, and other cataclysmic events. The real Armageddon-not the movie-might get underway. God might bring to an end this whole chapter in human history, and establish His final kingdom. People everywhere will join with angels to sing from Handel's Messiah, that "He shall reign for ever and ever."
Which is to say that for those who have come to trust their future to the God of the Bible, there's no such thing as ultimately bad news. Maybe a "discouraging word" here and there along the way, but no final defeats.