As 1999 wound down to its final days, observers around the world kept a close eye on air traffic, the stock markets, the Internet, in fact everything governed by electronics. Would the millennium bug strike after all and grind the world to a halt? Thankfully, it did not.
Yet as 2000 drew to a close and another year began, most of us were glad to see 2000 pass from the scene.
Good years and bad years affect the salaries of professional baseball players. Two or three bad ones in succession spell a salary cut or, worse, a trip down to the minor leagues. Someone asked Babe Ruth why he made more money than the president of the United States. "I had a better year than he did," quipped the legendary baseball star.
Britons found 2000 disappointing in more ways than one. In the United Kingdom, where I live, 2000 was a period of frustrating and expensive railway and motorway gridlock for parts of England, Scotland and Wales. Rail transport had its worst year in living memory. Serious accidents spotlighted structural problems in the nation's network of railroad tracks. Protesters staged massive demonstrations over skyrocketing fuel prices.
Elsewhere, 2000 focused us on a range of dispiriting images: the lingering uncertainty of the U.S. presidential election, the Mideast peace process in tatters, the rising presence in Austria of Joerg Haider and his Freedom Party, mayhem in Zimbabwe, even a threat to democracy in fabled Fiji. Many other cumulative problems similarly plagued the world in 2000.
A world of chaos
As a newspaper columnist put it: "World 2000 is a misshapen creation demographically, economically, culturally." Planet earth must feed more than six billion people while 800 million suffer from chronic hunger and malnutrition. We probably have enough food to feed the world, but politics and greed prevent its proper distribution.
Part of our problem is that we live on the edge of chaos. Periodic threats such as the millennium computer glitch emerge out of the global woodwork. Our lives revolve around computers, mobile phones and other technology. The more complex our world becomes, the greater our uncertainty. When things go wrong, such as a computer virus or a glitch in the stock market, a damaging chain reaction can begin.
Usually when a problem occurs we know about it. Thanks to 24-hour news coverage, the Internet and mobile phones, we can react instantly. A corporation's chief executive officer is almost never out of touch with the head office, whatever his location.
Yet sometimes when you try to fix a problem two or three others emerge unexpectedly. Minor hiccups can quickly turn into major problems. This is the way our world works.
We lurch from crisis to crisis. One problem fosters another, and the potential for planetwide meltdown seems always to lurk around the corner. Ours is an age of perpetual uncertainty. No wonder our medicine cabinets are full of pain relievers, tranquilizers and other drugs.
Order out of chaos
Of course, some degree of order and stability constantly corrects and counteracts the changing levels of chaos. The Bible reveals that God created human beings in His own image (Genesis 1:26-27). Though Satan struck at God's original creation, resulting in massive chaos, God restored a degree of light and order to an earth of perpetual darkness. (For details please request our free booklet Life's Ultimate Question: Does God Exist?)
Given this wondrous legacy by our Maker, we know, to a certain extent, how to restore order and restrain chaos. The Scriptures tell us "God is not the author of confusion" (1 Corinthians 14:33), and God tells the Church to do all things decently and in order (verse 40). Yet, to fulfill His great purpose for human life, God has temporarily allowed a surprising amount of chaos to stalk the earth.
An unseen influence
Satan is the prince of the power of the air, the unseen ruler of the world (Ephesians 2:2; John 12:31; 1 John 5:19). In due time Christ will depose him, and the restitution of God's government will soon follow.
But for now the devil influences people to produce all types of destructive chaos, not only in the world at large but in their personal lives. For instance, members of warring, dysfunctional families attack each other, both verbally and physically, in front of mass audiences on television shows. Their lives are in disarray.
Yet God is the Sovereign Ruler over heaven and earth (Matthew 11:25). He inspired one of His servants, the apostle Paul, to write: "The whole created world is waiting with eager expectation for the Sons of God to be revealed ... The created world itself would be freed from its enslavement to decay and receive the glorious freedom which belongs to the Children of God ... The created universe is waiting with eager expectation for God's sons to be revealed ... The universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality and is to enter upon the glorious liberty of the children of God" (Romans 8:19-21, Revised English Bible).
This means the Creator masterminds and fashions something undeniably worthwhile out of the chaotic behavior of mankind. God promises to bring us a peaceful and prosperous new world, ending the present confusing chaos (Acts 3:19-21). God knows what our era is like. Jesus told His disciples that "in the world you will have tribulation" (John 16:33).
The world awaits major change
Few chapters in the Bible explain the human condition better than Romans 8. Read verse 22 with the chaos of our age firmly in mind: "For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now." How much more applicable are these words now than when Paul wrote them!
A new world is being formed out of the old. The Jerusalem Bible grasps the meaning of verse 22: "From the beginning till now the entire creation, as we know it, has been groaning in one great act of giving birth."
In a sense civilization is experiencing the pangs of childbirth. Ultimately God will liberate our planet from every disaster, every act of irrational violence, every contrary force that harms and holds humanity hostage.
However, for the present the twists and turns of our torturous, chaotic age affect even those who understand God's purpose. God's people are not immune from the stresses and strains of a deceptive society.
The J.B. Phillips Modern English translation expresses the point well: "It is plain for anyone with eyes to see that at the present time all created life groans in a sort of universal travail. And it is plain, too, that we who have a foretaste of the spirit are in a state of painful tension" (verses 22-23).
Yet a few brave souls continue to proclaim the true gospel Jesus Christ taught. Seeing the world around them struggling for survival, they are moved to do something to help.
Nothing can be more urgent than actively warning mankind of the world crisis that is coming on this entire globe, and helping all who are willing discover the right and sure path through these coming troubles.
The new year may be a good year, or it may be another bad one. It's the general direction that counts. The potential for disaster in many quarters is always with us. We need to find and maintain a balanced biblical perspective. God assures His people that everything will turn out all right in the end (Luke 21:28). GN