Over the past week the news dominating the media has not been good. The precise stories are not the point, since this next week new ones may take their place. Or the old stories—of Ebola and ISIS, of political paralysis and economic greed, of brutality, mistrust and injustice—may have evolved into new versions, as bad as the last one, or worse.
And if you take the time to dig deeper into the reality of the brokenness, you find it extends far deeper than we know. Consider “Ebolanomics” in The New Yorker (August 25, 2014, p. 21). It’s a reminder that the problem is not merely individual sin or evil but that the brokenness infects all the systems of the world as well.
When pharmaceutical companies are deciding where to direct their R. & D. money, they naturally assess the potential market for a drug candidate. That means that they have an incentive to target diseases that affect wealthier people (above all, people in the developed world), who can afford to pay a lot. They have an incentive to make drugs that many people will take. And they have an incentive to make drugs that people will take regularly for a long time—drugs like statins.
This system does a reasonable job of getting Westerners the drugs they want (albeit often at high prices). But it also leads to enormous underinvestment in certain kinds of diseases and certain categories of drugs. Diseases that mostly affect poor people in poor countries aren’t a research priority, because it’s unlikely that those markets will ever provide a decent return. So diseases like malaria and tuberculosis, which together kill two million people a year have received less attention from pharmaceutical companies than high cholesterol. Then, there’s what the World Health Organization calls “neglected tropical diseases,” such as Chagas disease and dengue; they affect more than a billion people and kill as many as half a million a year. One study found that of the more than fifteen hundred drugs that came to market between 1975 and 2004 just ten were targeted at these maladies. And when a disease’s victims are both poor and not very numerous that’s a double whammy. On both scores, a drug for Ebola looks like a bad investment: so far, the disease has appeared only in poor countries and has affected a relatively small number of people.
One must be careful, since only God has the capacity to absorb the full brokenness of the world with descending into despair or cynicism.
One friend appended to an email, “I have been following the news and ‘this world is not my home.’ ‘Even so come Lord Jesus.’” He is half right.
My friend’s final phrase is from the end of St John’s stunning Revelation that brings the New Testament to its glorious end. The apostle allows us to see behind the cosmic dual of good and evil to the deeper reality of God’s triumph over the forces of death, darkness and disease that have infested his creation. To assure us that this is not merely the optimism of an exiled visionary, Christ as Lord speaks: “He who testifies to these things says,” St John records, “‘Surely I am coming quickly’” (Revelation 22:20). The king will return, will not delay, will consummate his kingdom, and his reign will be one of justice, world without end. This is the hope of every Christian who prays, as our Lord taught us to say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” So, St John adds, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
My friend’s other quotation is not from scripture but from the hymn, “This World is Not My Home,” by Albert Brumley (1905-1977).
This world is not my home,
I’m just passing through.
My treasures are laid up somewhere
beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me from
Heaven's open door
And I can’t feel at home in
this world anymore.
It’s an understandable yearning, I suppose, but it’s wrong.
The brokenness of the world is unnatural, true, and so we should feel the brokenness as wrong, as a perversion of what should be and of what was intended. The reason for my sin and brokenness is not “I’m only human,” but “I’m fallen and in need of redemption.” My hope as a Christian is not to escape this world for heaven, but for God’s redemption to be complete, so that a renewed heaven and earth show forth the full glory of which they are capable.
The news also provides glimmers of that glory, shining through the darkness, as it were. Last week I also read “Termite Soldiers’ Legs Sense Alarms” in Science News (August 23, 2014, p. 16). This is the species of termite that builds tall mounds of red soil that hardens like rock for defense and is constructed with a myriad tunnels to provide cool air for the bustling millions of insects living below the surface.
Africa’s Macrotermes natalensis termite relies on a fighter caste to defend its hardened, meter-high-plus mounds and up to several thousand square meters of underground tunnels. When an aardvark or other predator gouges the insects’ home, termites known as major soldiers pound their heads against the floors. The vibrations from the drumbeats tell other soldiers to speed to the breach.
These headbanger alarms vibrate through the walls of tunnels at about 130 meters per second. What lets a soldier know which direction to go is the slight delay between when the vibrations hit the soldier’s leg nearest the drumbeat source and when they hit its farthest leg, says Felix Hager of Ruhr University Bochum in Germany. A delay of as little as 0.20 milliseconds was enough to orient soldiers.
Even in a broken world, creation reveals a few hints of the wonder of what this world, made to be our home, will be like when the rightful king returns.