Anxiety levels are rising worldwide. Surely you have noticed, while, no doubt, trying not to notice. Jesus described the final chapters of human history as involving “men’s hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth” (Luke 21:26). We would be hard pressed to come up with a better description of the general atmosphere pervading our world right now.
The term “hearts failing” occurs only here in the New Testament. It is a unique and informative term Jesus used to tell us something important about the condition of the human race just prior to His Second Coming. The heart in Scripture refers to the mind as the seat of mental and emotional activity. The word failing indicates an operative malfunction, in this case referring to the human mind. Jesus looked down the corridors of time and saw that life on planet earth would become more than we can handle, more than we can process, more than we can bear up under. We might paraphrase the passage like this: “human beings will experience an escalation in psychological problems as world conditions worsen.” Jesus alerted us to the fact that our times will be characterized by mental breakdown, induced by overwhelming world conditions, which will invoke fear in people’s minds regarding “things which are coming on the earth.” He literally foretold the mental health crisis we are currently facing worldwide.
As we close out 2022, let’s briefly survey just a few of the fear-inducing “things which are coming on the earth” right now. Then let’s shift our attention to what I believe is one of the most peace-inducing truths of Scripture.
First, the bad stuff.
Politics of Hate
Political hostility is currently at the highest level since the 1960s. Politicians on both ends of the spectrum have apparently decided to play a zero-sum game in which each side demonizes the other. We now have two political parties in America that regard one another as full-on enemies rather than fellow citizens with mutual goodwill. For the first time since the Civil War (1861-1865), politicians and pundits are throwing around the idea that we are entering a level of national division that could precipitate America’s second civil war. Who knows for sure if that will happen—and we hope to God it does not—but it is extremely disconcerting that such language is even being used.
The Threat of Nuclear War
On the international front, for the first time since the Cold War in general and the Cuban Missile Crisis in particular, we find ourselves faced with the threat of nuclear war. As Russia continues its unprovoked attack on Ukraine, the big question is, “Could this lead to World War III?” This is no small question for the simple and terrifying reason that World War III would almost certainly entail the use of nuclear weapons. Any nation faced with losing a war will use all the power at its command to win. Vladimir Putin has stated unequivocally that if NATO nations come to the military defense of Ukraine, he will do whatever he deems necessary to defend Russia, which is generally interpreted as a threat of nuclear retaliation.
On the economic front, many economic experts are predicting a recession in the United States economy at best, and a complete collapse of the financial system at worst. We can’t say for certain exactly what will happen, but the fact that this kind of language is being used indicates that the situation is indeed serious.
Meanwhile, the national debt of America continues to sharply escalate, devaluing the dollar, which is the dominant world currency. A new economic term has been invented: “dedollarization.”
Notice the dire financial situation that keeps deepening for America, China, Russia, and India; these countries have given indications that they are more than willing to make an attempt at creating a new dominant world currency to replace the US dollar. What would the result of that be, not only for the USA but also for the world as a whole? Again, nobody knows for sure. But one thing is certain: the American economy is tenuous now for the first time since World War II.
…we are entering a level of national division that could precipitate America’s second civil war.
Simultaneously, after spending the last 20 years shifting its energy dependence on natural gas from Russia, Europe is now faced with a potential energy crisis of greater magnitude than at any previous time in its history.
The world economy is definitely shifting eastward, which may be good for many nations, or it could result in a new era of international conflict since it is invariably the case that no dominant world power will go down without a fight.
And if all of the above is not enough to drive fear-induced anxiety, technology itself is driving a mental health crisis of mammoth proportions.
A Mental Health Crisis
To some significant degree, we humans are the architects of our own worldwide mental health crisis. King Solomon offers this extremely insightful observation regarding human nature:
“God made people good, but they have found all kinds of ways to be bad” (Ecclesiastes 7:29, NCV).
This is, of course, an ancient statement about the human race in general throughout history. But it has special application to our times. How so? Well, think this through: if people are inclined to invent all kinds of ways to be evil, it logically follows that technological advancements will inevitably increase our capacity to do evil with greater and greater diabolical efficiency. For example, for thousands of years warfare was rather simple. Men would engage in hand-to-hand combat on a battlefield with swords and spears. Then gun powder was invented, allowing warriors to kill one another more easily and faster. Then the nuclear bomb was invented and the result was the instantaneous destruction of whole cities, as in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Currently, people can wage war with buttons from a safe distance, like playing a computer game. But we’ve channeled our technological ingenuity in all directions, not just for the so-called art of war.
We live in the age of the internet and social media. While there are positive uses of the system—most importantly, for the proclamation of the gospel—there are also destructive uses, as well. With a desktop computer or a handheld device, everything imaginable is at our fingertips. All kinds of good and evil can now be accessed by the senses, anytime, almost anywhere. Ours is a time of hyper stimulation, hyper simulation, and hyper assimilation. We are experiencing a state of sensory overload and sensual intake so pervasive and powerful, it has the potential to reduce humanity to a race of addicts.
Everything is for sale, including you.
“You are the product.” Those are the chilling words that operate as the central thesis of the scathing Netflix documentary, The Social Dilemma. Each online act you perform is captured and commodified. As you scroll and click, a “map” of your personality is composed, called an algorithm, which then informs paying corporations how best to target you with their ads. Companies pay social media platforms for your attention. Every time you click, you are monetized. Everything is for sale, including you. One of the men interviewed for the documentary is Jaron Lainer. He is a virtual reality pioneer who is currently an interdisciplinary scientist at Microsoft. Getting at the diabolical bottom line, Lainer says:
We’ve created a world in which online connection has become primary. Especially for younger generations. And yet, in that world, anytime two people connect, the only way it is financed is through a sneaky third person who’s paying to manipulate those two people. So we’ve created an entire global generation of people who were raised within a context in which the very meaning of communication, the very meaning of culture, is manipulation.
Some time ago, The Wall Street Journal ran an explosive article titled, “Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show,” and the still more bracing subtitle, “Its own in-depth research shows a significant teen mental-health issue that Facebook plays down in public” (September 14, 2021). The article draws upon leaked internal research from Facebook, which highlights the fact that Facebook, the owner of Instagram, is fully aware of the destructive impact the app is having on users, especially young girls. But it is also fully aware that to alter the app in ways that would mitigate the harmful effects would result in less clicking and therefore less revenue for the company.
Thus far, Facebook has chosen to act in its own financial interest, knowing that its platform is contributing to an increase in depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts, especially among teenagers. While Mark Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives are well aware of the harmful effects their platforms are having, they have chosen to evade and downplay the issue in congressional hearings and public comments.
When asked by U.S. senators to provide their internal research regarding the harmful effects of their platforms on youth, Facebook essentially refused by stating that its research is “kept confidential to promote frank and open dialogue and brainstorming internally.”
…even if nature itself implodes, God is unfailing and faithful in His love for us.
Not only are Facebook executives fully aware of the harm their platforms are causing in their current configuration, they also have indicated they plan on plowing forward to produce an Instagram app for children 13 years of age and younger, even in the face of objections by state attorney generals.
Just days ago, on November 14, a study was published in the medical journal Pediatrics, showing that there has been a sharp increase of emergency room visits from children and teens with suicidal urges. The study found that from 2016 to 2021, there has been a 59% increase of emergency room visits by suicidal young people.
Ironically, Mark Zuckerberg’s stated goal for Facebook is to connect people. Your followers on your profile are called “friends,” which increasingly strikes us as a sick joke. The real impact has been to drive many people into isolation and loneliness. The situation is so out of control that England has appointed a governmental cabinet position called “Minister of Loneliness.” Strangely, this person’s job is to figure out ways to connect people in real life because the country is experiencing an epidemic of loneliness, costing billions in medical care. Japan soon followed suit by also appointing a “Minister of Loneliness.”
In our internet age of “connection,” Medicaid now spends more on antipsychotics than on any other class of drugs. The number of people in the US treated for depression has tripled over the last two decades and antidepressants are the top-selling drugs. In Australia, it is estimated that 45% of the population will suffer some form of mental illness in their lifetime. Many other countries are experiencing the same basic crisis of meaningful connection, resulting in more loneliness, not less. So many people are now experiencing various mental disorders that some experts have suggested that we may soon cross a line in developed countries where more people will be medicated than not.
It’s all way too much for any of us to bear. Fear is an understandable response to world conditions, as Jesus indicated would be our natural response. And yet, there is good news.
The God of the Bible distinguished Himself as a God of covenant, and that means something monumentally beautiful and peace-giving:
“Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken, nor My covenant of peace be removed” (Isaiah 54:10, NIV).
“Give ear and come to Me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, My faithful love promised to David” (Isaiah 55:3, NIV).
Do you see and feel the stability communicated in these promises?
No matter what happens, even if nature itself implodes, God is unfailing and faithful in His love for us. Crisis after crisis will come upon this world. That is inevitable according to Bible prophecy. So grab hold of something else, Someone else. No matter what this world throws at us, our faith is not in earthly governments, lying politicians, world economies, or even ministers of loneliness. Our faith is in our God of covenantal faithfulness. So “be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Do not fear, beloved child of God!
All will ultimately be well, and more than well, for you.
Ty is a speaker/director of Light Bearers. A passionate communicator with a message that opens minds and moves hearts, Ty teaches on a variety of topics, emphasizing God’s unfailing love as the central theme of the Bible. Ty and his wife Sue have three adult children and two grandsons.