Tuesday, 8 November 2011

I am the 3,602,056,764th

According to a nifty BBC website - I am the 3,602,056,764th person alive of this planet. 

Its been estimated (with some fanfare) that we now have 7 billion image-bearers of God on this dear earth (though the dear friends who tout the numbers usually do it in a more gloomy way). 

Looking at my rank in the world - it would seem that just under half the world is older to me and the other half has been added since I was born. Sobering stuff to know that 3.5 odd souls are alive today

Among the many strong narratives that went on in the background of I had two which were apocalyptic. 

The first was the great Malthusian dillema about our population increasing geometrically and food arithmetically.  By the late 1970s all the food and oil etc were going to be used up.

Didn't quite happen.

We have added so many more people to this planet.  But the standard line I heard growing up - we are poor in India because we have lots of people - isn't true at all.  We are poor because our people do not have opportunities. Because of poor choices and bondages from within and without.  Because laws serve the rich and crush the poor.  And many other reasons - mostly to do with the stain of our rebellion against our good and loving Lord.

Food supplies actually increased over time.  Though we do have lots more people.  And numerically the poor are more than ever before - the overall increase in material well-being is undeniable. 

The other apocalyptic event that was supposed to take place was the 2nd coming of Christ.

Some authors had figured it all out.  EU was a 10 member conglomeration at that point.  10 horns on the beast.  Various numbers were put into play.  Various calculations and codes discovered.  And then a date or two were proposed.

Hasn't happened yet.  At least not in the way the literature that was floating around me in my 1970s boyhood seemed to predict.

So what do we make of the futurologists?  What do we make of those who sift through the entrails of population numbers and cryptic bits of the book of Daniel?

I think that we are called to live humbly, to seek justice, and to enjoy the real presence of God Himself.

Just because some of the well-meaning predictions didn't quite end up the way they were pitched doesn't mean that the messengers should be shot. 

I continue to be a closet environmentalist.  Concerned about how we are tending the garden, how we are stewarding the resources that we have been entrusted.  If anything - the aspirational and aquisitional materialism that is the new normal in our society has been fueling far more damage to our dear planet - than just the basic number of people per sq. km rubic.

A look at most of the 'western' world shows that having lots of people who are aging and want to be supported at high levels of comfort - and very few young people to work and produce - is a recipe for all kinds of problems.  China's own strains from having fewer kids show themselves in other ways.

And as for Christ's return - even in the generation after His death and resurrection there were mumblings among His followers about the apparent delay.  Addressing these comments the apostle Peter writes that: But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (2 Peter3.8-9).

I trust - and try - to live each day as if it were my last.  As if I am on the threshold of eternity (which we all are of course).  To keep short accounts.  To love and forgive.  To make the most of what God has given me.  To be ready for the joy of hearing 'well done, good and faithful servant.'

And of course for the last 12 years the walk has not been alone.  I am so blessed to be on this pilgrimage with the the amazing 3,602,464,780th person in this world. My remarkable wife Sheba entered the world 2 days after I did (a mere 418,016 currently living people later)!  Sheba has helped shape me is so many ways - though some of the (re)shaping has (and at times continues to be) pretty painful. Very much a work in process.  As if to emphasize this - we have the breath-taking responsibility of bringing up the next generation - at least 2 of them! In 2001 we were joined by the 6,163,475,701st person and in 2003 the 6,322,282,619th person in the world was delivered into our family.  The story continues!

And here is where our Lord takes us further.  Among our 7 billion fellow earth-dwellers He knows each one of us by name.  The work is on-going in each one of us. Only He knows the completion date.

A song from 'Bible Club' in High School echoes in my head (from Phil 1.6 and 2.13)

I am confident that He
Who began a good work in me
Will carry it through to completion
Until the day of Christ
So I'll work out my own salvation
With fear and trembling
For God is at work in me...
yours truly with no. 6,322,282,619 and no. 6,163,475,701 


  1. Great blog, Andi.

    Alas, I'm more Malthusian leaning, though perhaps more so for concerns about space than about food.

    Jared Diamond: "continuation of our current population growth rate would yield 10 people per square yard of land in 774 years” or in other words, a world whose surface was entirely covered by standing human beings.

    It's conceivable we could feed all these people, but, why would we want to be that crowded?

    I rather like open air and room to move around.


  2. Thanks Dan,

    The fact is that no one really knows what the next gen is going to experience. The 'current population growth rate' is changing as we speak - most of my generation in India have only 2 kids. But what has not been made clear is who is going to pay for the high levels of consumption that the western world has enjoyed for the lst 60+ years. History is usually on the side of the young - its going to be very interesting to see how the prices of things will swing over the next few years as India and China start flexing their purchasing power (or at least the many million fold elites within the Tiger and the Dragon land do).

    Who owns open air and room to roam around is also a very good question... we are already seeing Chinese and Indian companies buying land in Africa for farming - an Indian Chicken magnate has bought the Blackburn Rovers - Tata (who own Jaguar and Landrover and Tetley Tea) is now the largest single employer in the UK. Perhaps you may see one of us buying up a good bit of Maine in the coming years? :)

    But more soberingly - we are entering a world where the elderly will for the first time be a majority - and yet our cultures seem fixated on lionising the young...

  3. Agreed, on most of that.

    And yet, I think it can be stated without reservations that reducing the fertility rate (down to replacement rates, or even slightly below them for a while, to level off population growth) is simply a necessity. Whether now or in 100 years may be a matter of debate, but, sooner or later, it has to happen, lest our descendants, at some point in the future, end up with 10 humans per square foot.

    Such a reduction, it also seems, will inevitably result in a period of time during which there are more old people than young. (And as you point out, in some points of the world, already has.) How to do this artfully is going to be a huge challenge.

    High levels of consumption is a whole other pickle...