The State of the World: A Progress Report
by H. Wallace Goddard

It is popular among those who are politically conservative to observe that things are not as they once were. The alarmists among them see a serious decline in civilization: The world is bad and getting worse faster than ever.

Among the politically liberal, it is popular to observe that the world is changing; humans are evolving and things are as good or better than ever–give or take a few growing pains.

It is not easy to reconcile the two views. In fact, it may not be possible, which is just as well. It may be better to jettison both views. Maybe we can set aside our unbalanced human perceptions and try to see the state of the world from the heavenly perspective.

There is no question that this is a time of great sin. Every form of awfulness and ugliness is readily available in almost every corner of the world. Popular entertainment is competing to be more outlandish (Think “Fear Factor” or “Survivor.”) and amoral (Consider “Sex and the City.”) It has never been easier to access smut, spread lies, or get the grisly details on the most recent human atrocity. The economy is sagging, corruption is rampant, terrorists elude us, children are not safe. The news media feed us a steady diet of alarming and discouraging news. Any sensible person would be apprehensive, probably even distraught.

When our gag reflex for awfulness is activated, we are enjoined by fellow earthlings to be tolerant of each other. But we have a sneaking suspicion, hard to crystalize and impossible to convey, that tolerance cannot fully displace accountability and action. Not all choices bear sweet fruit. Something must be done. Evil cannot be allowed full reign.

From the celestial vantage point, is there any good news? Hmmm. It would seem that there are more saints than there have ever been in any other era of the world’s history. It is easier to access the counsel of the prophets than it has ever been. (Have you recently logged onto the Church’s website to enjoy a renewing segment/snack of the last general conference?) There are more missionaries spreading the word than ever before. The priesthood is compassing the globe as never before. More temples are available to more people than any time in the history of this world.

I am a poor historian, so I will not attempt to put today’s situation into historical perspective. However I know a little about recent discoveries in human development. I believe that God has delivered vast stores of truth to guide His children in times of confusion.

While silly theories and trivial programs are just as abundant as ever (and are supported by more effective marketing departments than ever), the findings of quality research on human development and human relationships consistently affirm the counsel of Heaven.

According to recent research, there are clear benefits in marriage for both men and women. Research suggests that marital discord and dissolution are costly. The key to marital happiness, according to revolutionary research, is NOT disclosure, communication, and unloading; what matters most in close relationships is kindness, editing, self-soothing, patience, commitment. These revolutionary discoveries only confirm what God has known and taught from the beginning of time.

The research on effective parenting over the last few decades has dramatically converged on the counsel of heaven. While researchers may recommend inductive control or authoritative parenting, their description of these forms of parenting is totally compatible (if somewhat inferior) to the Lord’s recommendation of persuasion, long-suffering, gentleness, meekness, and love (See D&C 121:41.).

Even in the field of resilience where the focus of study is children who face daunting challenges yet manage to thrive, the message is that love (“someone who is crazy about that child”) and service (“required helpfulness”) are the keys.

Discoveries in moral development suggest that we should cultivate empathy and perspective-taking. Martin Hoffman’s amazing model of moral functioning harmonizes perfectly with the Lord’s recommendations for cultivating good decision-making in children.

Teams of researchers have recently discovered broad and surprising benefits to involving youth in service. Anyone who has read the counsel of Spencer W. Kimball is not surprised by this discovery.

The recent discovery of and emphasis on emotional intelligence is a johnny-come-lately in a world where God has been pointing us to the “still, small voice” for millennia.

The recent publication of the Handbook of Positive Psychology is a miracle in its own right. A believer will smile knowingly in perusing the new emphasis on wellness, forgiveness, humility, optimism, hope, compassion, happiness, spirituality, and even joy. This is a revolution for the traditionally-morose field of psychology.

The examples of timeless truths being re-discovered and re-confirmed can be multiplied endlessly. The fact that ancient truths about human development and relationships are being affirmed by research should be comfort to believers. In fact, in a world where the din of wickedness is very loud, the message of truth is clearer than ever and confirmed not only by latter-day revelation but also by respected research.

Anyone who seeks to find healthy ways of living will get the same counsel from good research that they have always gotten from God. I suspect that God has accelerated the construction of truth in order to shelter and protect the very elect who might otherwise be swept along by waves of falsehood. While the tide of ugliness surges higher and stronger, the walls of truth offer sure safety for those who take refuge therein.

Is it harder or easier to be a disciple today than in past eras? In some ways the situation is no different from what it has always been. Satan is promoting distraction and folly. His hired mockers heckle us from their lofty perches.

Fortunately our Perfect Father is eternally committed to agency. To use an athletic metaphor, He insists on a level playing field. Returning to the flood metaphor, He will not let us be swept away by the polluted floods; neither does He hold us in His house against our will. There is never a time when Satan can overpower Truth and Goodness just as there will never be a time when God will force goodness. As a result, we have agency.

Of course the two choices are not equally blessed. The believer knows that one option has glory and the other does not. But we always have choice.

He hath given unto you that ye might know good from evil, and he hath given unto you that ye might choose life or death; and ye can do good and be restored unto that which is good, or have that which is good restored unto you; or ye can do evil, and have that which is evil restored unto you. (Helaman 14:31)

Even in times of terrible evil, God’s grace is sufficient to inform, comfort, protect, and ennoble us. We may benefit from God’s counsel to Elijah to look beyond earthquake, wind, and fire to the still, small voice. We do not try to out-shout Satan; we turn from him and turn to the Master of Peace. Those who are called to minister in these intense times consult that inner voice for guidance and point all His children to that inexpressible comfort to direct their lives.

Just as in all ages, believers will find love, joy, and peace in following God’s plan.

2007 Meridian Magazine.  All Rights Reserved.