Remember when the FBI-and a few other altogether dependable things in life-worked? When I was a kid, getting on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list was tantamount to being captured. You could count on it, and it usually didn't take too long.
A book out last week details how, right here in my mountains of western North Carolina, Eric Rudolph made the FBI look silly for five whole years before a rookie cop in a small town finally caught him. Rudolph, for sure, was on the FBI's famous list. And the agency assembled the biggest team it had ever assigned to a single case. As we drove through the towns of Murphy and Andrews and the Nantahala Gorge during those years, we'd regularly see the various officers of the law-alternately scurrying about officiously and standing around helplessly with maps spread out on the hoods of their Crown Victoria squad cars.
Now it turns out, if Maryanne Vollers' Lone Wolf is to be trusted, that Rudolph was right there among them the whole time. He shopped from time to time at the local Wal-Mart. When he stole a truck and then ran out of gas on a back road, the cops gave him a lift. He lived close by for the whole five years, almost every day watching and mingling with the people who were so desperate to catch him.
So if the FBI is now vastly diminished in the eyes of all of us who once thought it could do no wrong, it is in that sense only a symbol of how much more in the world today is similarly broken. The mighty American military-far and away the most imposing martial force ever imagined by mankind-has also spent five years in a futile search for Osama bin Laden. Who might have imagined that such a hunt, fueled by billions of dollars and mind-boggling technology, would come up empty? And in Iraq, the same machine stands perilously close to its second major embarrassment in the last generation.
To such setbacks, we might well add the failure of government, in the minds of most citizens, to deal adequately with the devastation of Hurricane Katrina (and other storms) and to regulate the flow of immigrants to the United States.
On a less dramatic front, but no less critical for the health of our society, is American failure in the field of education, where at least half a dozen other nations now regularly outperform our badly broken systems. Or try health care, where the science and technology may be superb but our system of paying for what we get has become a nightmare.
Or you can point at something as humdrum as delivering the nation's mail. In almost 21 years of publishing WORLD-that's something over 1,000 separate issues-I can remember only two or three times when we have been even 24 hours late getting the magazine into the mail. But with all that regularity, the U.S. Postal System still can't predict within a whole week when you can count on getting a copy of WORLD in your mailbox.
How much else is similarly broken? Pick just about any venue, and as far as you're able to look, you'll almost certainly discover the depressing results of the fall. That's the kind of people we are. That's how profoundly the curse on our misbehavior reaches into our daily lives. Even some of the things we used to think we did fairly well lie in the rubbish heap of disillusionment.
Yet however far that list of brokenness extends, it's never any longer than the reach of God's mercy. Those of us at WORLD, because we try faithfully to reflect what's happening every week on this wobbly globe, have to tell you about a lot of bad news and pitifully out-of-order efforts to deal with all that ugliness. But we never want to do that without also pointing clearly to a sovereign God who "comes to make His blessings flow," as Isaac Watts reminded us almost 300 years ago, as "far as the curse is found."
The next time you see something that's broken, or not working as well as you think it should or wish it did, let it be God's reminder that such brokenness is nothing but a yardstick of how far His goodness will ultimately reach.