Bad News: Life is Dangerous

I often start my day by turning on my computer and scanning the headlines for the latest news. I want to know if anything major has changed while I slept. Does something new require prayer? Are there events that might affect me, or my friends and family? Has Elvis returned? What will everyone be talking about?

I read that thousands of people have been buried alive in an Afghanistan landslide. Hundreds of teenaged girls, kidnapped from their boarding school, are being held hostage in Nigeria. And “up to 20,000 migrants [from north and east Africa] have died at sea trying to reach Europe over the past 20 years.”

Then there’s the local news. Here are some of today’s headlines: “Homes Hit by Gunfire.” “Pedestrian hit, killed by pickup truck.” “Heroin and cash found in car after crash.”

The world can be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad place. Most mornings, the news is enough to send me crawling back to bed. I admit, it’s tempting to bury my head under my pillow, but is that the response God wants from me?

The media knows that the worse the news, the more people will tune in, so of course that’s what we see on TV or read online. I can still hear Pete’s grandmother exclaiming, “The world is going to hell in a handbasket!” From her perspective of 80+ years, things were going from bad to worse.  Are things getting worse? Should we be afraid?

To answer the first question, I looked up some statistics on crime. What I learned surprised me. The Christian Science Monitor proclaims: “US crime rate at lowest point in decades. Why America is safer now.” Homicide rates are actually dropping.

Violence-Stylized-2You can see the long-term trend in this chart. The numbers on the left are in increments of 100,000 persons. (The chart originally appeared on the website The Public Intellectual. I recommend reading the entire article—I found it fascinating.)

How about drug use? The National Institute on Drug Abuse states, “Illicit Drug use in American has been increasing.” Upon reading the fine print, however, most of the increase (from 8.3% in 2002 to 9.2% in 2012) is due to an increase in marijuana consumption. If you remove that drug, usage has either stayed the same, or declined. Cocaine, in particular, has decreased from 2.1 million users to 1.7 million in the five years leading up to 2012 (the most recent year that statistics are available).

Most of us knew someone who was killed in a car crash. Have our highways become more dangerous? Again, the answer is no. Traffic fatalities are decreasing. StatisticBrain.com lists fatal car crashes by year. In 1970, 52,627 people died in car crashes. In 2012, it was less than half that—25,580 deaths. The trend is almost continuously downward. This is at the same time that the number of cars has dramatically increased.

How does that work out per miles traveled? In 1952, there were 7.2 fatalities per 100 million miles driven. In 2010 the number was 1.1. Our highways (or our cars) are much safer.

That’s fine, but how about risks that have increased in the last 15 or so years? Sure, air bags have improved our chances of surviving an accident, and murders are down because we’re all getting older (most homicides involve young adults), but what about terrorism? That’s gotten much worse! Right?

The May 6, 2013 issue of Time gave our “chance of dying in a terrorist attack in the United States,” at1 in 20 million. (That’s in the five years from 2007 to 2011, according to Richard Barrett, coordinator of the United Nations al Qaeda/Taliban Monitoring Team. I recommend you read Barrett’s excellent article.)

I could go on, but you get the idea. In spite of the news on TV, living in the United States has never been safer. Still, the world can be a dangerous place. Should we be worried?

One of God’s favorite phrases seems to be “Fear not!”Isaiah clearly explains why we shouldn’t be afraid:

Fear not, for I am with you; Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, Yes, I will help you, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’ (Isaiah 41:10)

While we don’t know how or when it will happen, we know that we will die. Rather than waste what time I have worrying about the inevitable, I’d rather focus on living the life God has given me now. How can I bring the Kingdom of Heaven to earth? How can I bring glory to God? Then, I know that when I finally do die, I’ll be with Him for eternity.

[H]e too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7)

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