The progress made in the 20th century is staggering. Advancements in science, medicine and technology alone have brought incalculable benefits to humanity.
Yet a darker side of the 20th century cannot be ignored. For all the progress, the 20th century was the most violent of human history.
Over 100 million people were killed in two world wars. Many smaller wars claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.
An estimated 170 million civilians were murdered by their own governments. Places like Afghanistan, Rwanda, Kuwait, Bosnia, Kosovo, Yugoslavia, Chechnya, along with others, experienced unimaginable violence and bloodshed.
The 20th century made common words like holocaust, genocide, abortion, terrorism, and mass suicide.
In the later portion of the 20th century, America witnessed a dramatic increase in violence. From 1960 to1993, violent crime increased by 560 percent. In 1987, the Department of Justice estimated that eight out of ten people will be victims of violent crimes at least once in their lives. Even more alarming violent crimes committed by children ages 10 to 17 increased 400 percent.
Frightening turns in violence
The nature of violent crime also took some frightening turns. Gangs, serial killers, city riots and drive-by shootings continued, but large scale terrorist activities — most notably the bombings of the World Trade Center and the Oklahoma City federal office building — became ominous examples of what many believe to be a future pattern of violence. The nation was also shocked by extreme violence in schools from upper-middle class districts like the Columbine High School.
“In looking back at the past 100 years, one thing stands out: Man’s capacity for cruelty seems fairly constant … As the millennium closes, it seems there are more and more random assaults on the anchors of American life: offices, schools, post offices. Some fear terrorism too, is the wave of the future — the targeting of American fortresses by crazed militia groups or by international madmen seeking redress with powerful bombs. Crime experts worry that someday we might see the frightening brand of overseas terrorism that has so far eluded us: suicidal fanatics bent on destruction” ( Angie Cannon, U.S. News & World Report, Dec. 6, 1999).
With this history of violence, one of our most alarming concerns should be the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The potential of a nuclear holocaust looms largely over the human race. It is simply unrealistic to think that humans will not use such power for evil.
Other kinds of violence
Violence in our own nation must include reference to the torture and killing of more than 50 million unborn babies in the last 37 years of the twentieth century. There is no way to sanitize the hideous procedures of poisoning or dismembering tiny human bodies and dumping them in the garbage or “donating” their parts in the name of fetal tissue research. This is a horrible violence that grieves and angers the heart of God.
The violence of the past century compares with an earlier time in history — the days of Noah. During that period, “the earth was corrupt in God’s sight and was full of violence” (Genesis 6:11). Our Creator, “was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, “I will wipe mankind whom I have created from the face of the earth …” (Genesis 6:6-7).
Enter Jesus’ words: “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the son of man” (Matthew 24:37).
Considering the amount of violence that filled the earth in the last century and continues to this day, we could be moving closer to the Lord’s return. Are you ready to face your creator? Although God must be deeply grieved when he observes this violence, his love and salvation are still available.
The most well known verses of scripture remind us that “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only son” (John 3:16, 18).
We need to do everything possible to bring peace to a violent world. In scripture, we are commanded to pray for those in authority so that we can have peaceful lives. Jesus taught his followers to live by an ethic of nonviolence and to be peacemakers.
But Scripture also teaches that the God-ordained function of government is to punish evil doers so that we can have a more orderly and peaceful society.
The pattern of violence continues into the 21st century as we face ongoing acts of terrorism. As we pursue peace, we must remain realistic about the potential for violence beyond what this world has ever witnessed. We must also be prepared to meet God. He has made a way for people to have peace with himself (Romans 5:1). This is a peace that can never be taken away.
See: Blaming Religion for the violence