For many Americans 2020 has been one of the most depressing years on record. It has also been the deadliest year in U.S. history, due mainly to the COVID-19 pandemic, with deaths expected to top 3 million for the first time ever. With death, destruction, and divisiveness dominating the news cycle, it can lead us to despair over the direction our world is headed.
But while we should not ignore the bad news, neither should we overlook the good. We serve a sovereign God who governs all things. As Lamentations 3:37 asks, “Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the LORD has commanded it?”
Over the past year, God has provided a range of blessings that have changed a negative trend to a positive one, improving our lives and the lives of our neighbors—both in the U.S. and across the globe. As we reflect on the end of the year, we should give thanks to God for these 15 “good news” trends.
1. In a historic healthcare achievement, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that Africa is now free from wild poliovirus. Polio, which can cause irreversible paralysis and can be fatal if breathing muscles are affected, usually affects children under 5 years old. Two decades ago, thousands of African children were paralyzed annually by the disease. Africa’s last case of wild polio was recorded four years ago in northeast Nigeria.
2. The 2020 Global Terrorism Index has found that deaths from terrorism fell for the fifth consecutive year since peaking in 2014. The number of deaths has now decreased by 59 percent since 2014 to 13,826. In 2020, 103 countries improved compared to 35 that deteriorated, the highest number of countries to record a year-on-year improvement since the inception of the index.
3. After 39 years of work, a translation of the Bible in American Sign Language has been completed. Duane King started work on an ASL Bible in 1981 and completed the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel this fall. This adds to the number of languages—almost one out of three—that has adequate access to Scripture.
4. For much of human history, malaria has been one of the leading causes of death. But according to the latest WHO report on the disease, malaria deaths have reached the lowest level ever recorded. An estimated 1.5 billion malaria cases and 7.6 million malaria deaths were averted globally since 2000.
5. The WHO also reports that between 2015 and 2019, global deaths from tuberculosis (TB) fell by 14 percent. TB is a communicable disease that is a major cause of ill health, one of the top 10 causes of death worldwide and the leading cause of death from a single infectious agent. Since 2000, TB treatment has averted more than 60 million deaths.
6. Female genital mutilation (FGM) is the partial or complete removal of a girl’s external genitals for non-medical reasons. According to the UN, about 87 percent of women in Sudan between the ages of 14 and 49 have undergone some form of FGM. This year the Sudanese government finally criminalized performing FGM, making it punishable by three years in jail. Currently, 51 countries have specifically addressed FGM within their national legal framework. (See also: 9 Things You Should Know About Female Genital Mutilation)
7. The Federal Bureau of Investigation released its latest edition of Crime in the United States, which showed that violent crime decreased nationwide for the third consecutive year. After decreases in both 2017 and 2018, the violent crime rate dropped an additional one percent in 2019 and the property crime rate decreased 4.5 percent.
8. The number of people around the globe dying from AIDS has decreased by 5.4 percent in the last year, reaching the lowest level since 1993. As of the end of June 2020, 26.0 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy, and 85 percent of pregnant women living with HIV had access to antiretroviral medicines to prevent transmission of HIV to their child.
9. The number of people without access to electricity dropped from almost 860 million in 2018 to 770 million in 2019, a record low in recent years. Access to electricity is key in preventing the world’s largest single environmental health risk: household air pollution. Household air pollution caused by the inefficient use of solid fuels results in 4.3 million premature deaths each year—almost three times as many as die from AIDS.
10. Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the United States signed a diplomatic pact known as the “Abraham Accords Peace Agreement.” Israel and the UAE also signed a separate agreement to establish diplomatic and economic ties between the two nations. The treaties could have a positive effect on both the Israeli-Palestianian conflict and religious liberty in the UAE. Israel also issued a joint statement announcing full diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Bahrain and the State of Israel. This increases the number of Arab countries in the Middle East to recognize the modern nation of Israel to four (the others are the UAE, Egypt, and Jordan).
11. The abortion rate in the United States continues to decline; this is the lowest rate recorded since abortion was legalized in 1973. The abortion rate fell in 29 of 45 states reporting data. (See also: How Low Can the Abortion Rate Drop?)
12. The teen birth rate in the United States is also at a record low, dropping to less than 18 births per 1,000 girls and women ages 15 to 19 for the second time since the government began regularly collecting data on this group.
13. The number of people held in American prisons continues to decline from that population’s peak in 2009, according to Justice Department data. A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics says “the number of prisoners under state or federal jurisdiction” by the end of 2019 the prison population had declined 11 percent from its peak of 1,615,500 prisoners in 2009
14. Many endangered species are making a comeback. Efforts to curb poaching have helped Kenya’s elephant population more than double over the past three decades, from 16,000 in 1989 to more than 34,000 today. The tiger population in India has also nearly doubled over the past 12 years—from 1,400 to nearly 3,000 in 2019. And the world’s most endangered primate population—the Hainan gibbons of Hainan Island—have tripled from 1970 to 2020.
15. The U.S. Supreme Court continued a pattern of preventing restrictions on religious liberty. The Supreme Court closed out its 2020 term with three significant victories for religious liberty—continuing a 10-year series of wins for religious freedom. The federal courts also rebuffed attempts by state governments in 2020 to discriminate against houses of worship by treating them differently than similarly situated secular entities.