On a near daily basis, we find ourselves confronted with news of violence, conflict, suffering and death on a global scale. We’ve seen bombings in Brussels, shootings in Paris, car bombs in Ankara and countless atrocities across the Middle East and Africa. I find myself only half-digesting the facts of one horrific act, when, before long, news emerges of some other tragic loss of life in another part of the world.
When we actually stop to digest and consider this appalling suffering, it’s easy to despair. Only recently my sister-in-law posted on Facebook:
Murderous attacks on the Ivory Coast and in Turkey, Trump insanity gaining momentum in the USA… I’m considering going to find a rock to hide under until humanity comes to its collective senses.
I think many of us would share this sentiment. We’re all waiting for humanity to come to its collective senses.
But, perhaps we’re waiting in vain? I don’t see an easy solution to these problems. I lack hope that anything will change in the near (or distant) future. If anything, during my 28 years of life, I’ve seen these problems only get worse.
Gone are the days when many of us believed ‘things can only get better’; the hope of a peaceful world for our children and grandchildren seems as far off as ever. In fact, with globalisation increasing exponentially, the danger seems even closer to us. Even in our ‘developed’ society, with its advancements in education, science, and technology, we face huge challenges of inequality and isolation. I don’t think any of us would say we have reached the utopia previous generations might have hoped for.
And so, we are faced with the great unsaid question: ‘What will fix it?’
Many of us would say the answer lies with education, that the world’s problems will be solved when we can educate each other into a higher form of humanity. We can then become better at resolving our conflicts by viewing each other not as enemies, but as more rational, sensible human beings able to make good moral choices.
Personally, I can see some truth in that. At some point in my childhood, I learnt that shouting and being aggressive weren’t helpful in trying to get my own way. I learnt that you had to share with your friends. I learnt that you shouldn’t scratch your mum’s car with a stone for no reason (best leave that tale for another day). Ultimately, I learnt that my actions had consequences and so I changed my behaviour.
But does education solve all our problems? I would wager that it doesn’t. After 16 years of education, I am still, ultimately, selfish. I continue to make bad moral choices.
When we look at the world’s problems, many of them can be traced back to this same selfishness — the intrinsic human desire to put our own needs above those of others.
Consider the trade in conflict diamonds. Without consumers looking for large specimens at low prices, there wouldn’t be a market for illegal diamonds in the first place. Without the desire for ‘a quick buck’, traders wouldn’t be sourcing their diamonds unethically. In fact, the whole supply chain is predicated on human greed. The same can be said of climate change, of global poverty and inequality, and many of the world’s conflicts. Greed and selfish desire are the underlying cause of so many of our problems.
So if selfishness is the problem, what is the solution? Jesus speaks about this selfishness coming from within us. It isn’t something that is taught to us, so it can’t just be educated out of us. In fact, I would suggest that as we become more educated, we can just become more effective at pursuing our own self-seeking aims.
Ultimately, Jesus’ solution is much more than mere education. Jesus came to the world 2,000 years ago to deal with the problem of selfishness. He came to put an end to it. In dying on the cross, Jesus paid the penalty for our sin — a debt we owe to God. As we accept his offer of eternal relationship with God, and experience his love and forgiveness, he gives us a new power to overcome our natural selfishness.
I think of my friend Jamie who experienced this a few years ago. He’d been in prison five times when he became a Christian. When he did so, his life was transformed. The news that he was loved and forgiven by God resulted in total transformation. He turned away from a life of crime. He’s now an excellent glazier, a committed husband and father, and a good friend and mentor to many.
I’m excited by the possibility of Jesus’ love to transform the world and for a revolution of unselfishness to break out. Could you imagine a world, a society, even the Church, transformed by this unselfish love?