RIGHT AFTER WORLD EVENTS TOOK SUCH A terrible turn for the worse a few weeks ago, they seemed to get a little better. They always do. My reflections in this space in our May 29 issue, apparently striking many readers as glum and dispirited, provoked an unusual flurry of letters, cards, e-mails, and phone calls-all laced with an encouragement to cheer up because things really could be much, much worse.
Of course they could. If the prison scandals in Iraq don't prove from history's more distant perspective to be the nadir of the American foray there, and if even more loathsome disappointments are sooner or later revealed, we cannot be totally surprised. Only God's restraining grace keeps any of us from being as bad as we could be.
But it is also, of course, God's tender mercies that allow humans to do better things:
- Through so much of the spring, all we could see was the viciousness of ethnic friction in Iraq. Then suddenly we watched a new transitional government emerge with cordial handshakes among Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds, and a promise to start deactivating some tribal militias.
- For months, the noisy homosexual lobby has made it sound as if they're going to take over our culture lock, stock, and barrel. Then comes a Wirthlin Worldwide poll, prepared for the Alliance for Marriage, claiming that more than two-thirds of all Americans favor a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to one man and one woman. Even among self-described Democrats, the amendment is favored by 56 percent; among Republicans, the margin is 23 points higher.
- The typically cynical American media sounded downright friendly, and sometimes even patriotic, during a week of coverage of Ronald Reagan's death and memorial observances. It seemed to help that it all coincided with the 60th anniversary of the Allied landing at Normandy.
- And gas prices, which had scared us all in early May by topping $2 a gallon, promised to ease off a bit when OPEC said it would loosen supplies by increasing production in Saudi Arabia and other countries.
(Two readers chastised me for including gas prices in my original list of negative developments. "Even to mention something that trivial in the context of genuinely significant world events embarrasses me," said a reader from Minnesota. "It shows how truly materialistic we have become-and makes me wonder whether maybe that really is the reason for the war in Iraq.")
But, of course, a whole spectrum of issues-some big and some tiny-determines whether we come off as optimists or pessimists at any given point in our lives. And God's sovereign design in weaving together that spectrum of issues is a factor we rarely take enough into account.
So, readers ask me from time to time, are you folks at WORLD magazine ultimately optimistic or pessimistic about the way things are headed?
I am glad when such questioners remember to include the word ultimately-for then I am always able to respond, without qualification, that we are optimists. The God of the universe, who created everything that was, and is, and ever will be, will in His great providence someday work out everything for ultimate good and for His everlasting glory. And when that happens, everyone will agree that it is so. About that, we at WORLD have no doubt-and we believe that Christian friends from all eschatological persuasions join us in that ultimate confidence.
It's how we get from here to there that often leaves us perplexed-and sometimes even a little downcast.
When the financier J.P. Morgan was asked more than a century ago what the market was likely to do over the next few months, his answer was as brief as it was profound. "It's going to fluctuate," he said.
That's what will also happen in world and national affairs. We will have our ups and downs. Some weeks, WORLD will encourage you with our reports. Other times, our own discouragement may show a bit.
My own sense, for example-and I fervently hope that I am wrong-is that in our own nation, there will be more downs than ups over the next decade or two-or at least as long as it takes us to remember that it is God, and not humans, who is the measure of all things.
But it will be more like the scariest roller coaster ever built than like a runaway train. For with all the dips and curves and upside-down twists, our destination will never be in doubt. Still, don't be surprised if a few of us lose our lunches along the way.