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How We Broke the World

Dr. James Emery White

unfinished puzzle of the world to signify a broken worldPhoto Credit: ©GettyImages/Francesco Scatena

One of my favorite writers is New York Times (NYT) columnist Thomas Friedman. We don’t always agree, mind you, but he is a spot-on cultural analyst and a careful thinker.

In a recent opinion piece for the NYT, Friedman walked through how, precisely, we broke the world. Here is his central thesis:

Over the past 20 years, we’ve been steadily removing man-made and natural buffers, redundancies, regulations and norms that provide resilience and protection when big systems — be they ecological, geopolitical or financial — get stressed....

At the same time, we’ve been behaving in extreme ways — pushing against, and breaching, common-sense political, financial and planetary boundaries.

And, all the while, we’ve taken the world technologically from connected to interconnected to interdependent — by removing more friction and installing more grease in global markets, telecommunications systems, the internet and travel. In doing so, we’ve made globalization faster, deeper, cheaper and tighter than ever before....

Put all three of these trends together and what you have is a world more easily prone to shocks and extreme behaviors — but with fewer buffers to cushion those shocks — and many more networked companies and people to convey them globally.

This, of course, was revealed clearly in the latest world-spanning crisis — the coronavirus pandemic. But this trend of more frequent destabilizing crises has been building over the past 20 years: 9/11, the Great Recession of 2008, Covid-19 and climate change. Pandemics are no longer just biological — they are now geopolitical, financial and atmospheric, too. And we will suffer increasing consequences unless we start behaving differently....

It is hard to disagree. However, this is only one way in which the world is broken, and far from the most profound. The world is also broken morally and spiritually. Specifically, we have no moral compass and no spiritual anchor.

Without a moral compass, we have no transcendent sense of what is right or wrong, no idea of “true north” in terms of behavior. As a result, we make decisions based on the lowest possible sense of morality: if it makes me happy and doesn’t hurt you, I’m free to proceed. Of course, when what makes me happy does hurt you, I will then be inclined (because I have no moral compass) to make my own personal pleasure paramount.

And without a spiritual anchor, we have no transcendent sense of what is true or false; we are individualized boats tossed about on the surface of the ocean, blown here and there at the whim of the cultural winds. Note that a spiritual anchor is vastly different than mere spirituality, which is vacuous in nature and more akin to the sound of your own voice. A spiritual anchor is spirituality rooted in transcendent truth; that there is a God who has not been silent and knows precisely who He is and asks us to do the same.

Our world is broken. Now more than ever. We are collectively crying out for change, and for people and institutions to “do something” – whether it’s the pandemic, unemployment, climate change or racism. Most know that the human heart lies at the center of most changes – particularly something like racism – but have no idea how to change it. And no wonder. Without a moral compass and a spiritual anchor, there is no sense of even what, exactly, needs to be fixed.

I can’t help but have the lyrics to Kirk Franklin’s “My World Needs You” come to mind:

Show me your face
Fill up this space
My world needs you right now
My world needs you right now

I can't escape
Being afraid
Fill me with you right now
My world needs you right now

Power fall down
Bring with it a sound
That points us to you right now
Erase substitutes right now

Fix what I see
And God please fix me
My world needs you right now
Let us see you right now

Every heart in the world, God, needs you to rescue
Storms have come and torn our hearts in two
We need you

Yes.

We have broken the world, and there is only one way to truly fix it.

Our world needs you, God,

… and right now.

Sources

Thomas L. Friedman, “How We Broke the World,” The New York Times, May 30, 2020, read online.

Kirk Franklin, “My World Needs You,” watch on YouTube.


James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunct professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His newest book, Christianity for People Who Aren’t Christians: Uncommon Answers to Common Questions, is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookseller. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.