For anyone who grew up in church, the world is a common buzz word that encompasses anything that is not considered Christian or godly. People don’t watch certain movies because they are of “the world.” Science is of “the world” (unless it agrees with scripture or tradition). Non-Christian music is of “the world.” Drinking is of “the world.” Sex (outside of marriage) is of “the world.”
The comparison between the world and godliness is made as a moral one, and these days the moral focus tends to be on personal sin. That’s what most preachers and teachers hit on. She’s immoral because she had sex with her boyfriend. He’s immoral because he got drunk last night.
THE WORLD WILL HATE YOU
Jesus taught that the world would hate us. Paul admonished his followers to not be given to the patterns of the world, and promised that there would be persecution when we stood for righteousness. If that’s the case, then something is wrong here. I’ve never been hated because I refuse to cheat on my wife. I was never hated or persecuted when I didn’t drink. No one has ever wanted to harm me for cursing or watching a rated-R movie. The only time we’ve been hated because of issues of morality have been when we’ve tried to force our moral views on others (case in point, the current anti-homosexual movement).
WHAT IS “THE WORLD?”
“The world” is a system. It’s a machine. In the Jewish scriptures the world was a system of injustice and marginalization. In Egypt the Hebrews were pressed down by the world, and the motivation of the oppressor was power. Later, every time a prophet brought judgement against the nation of Israel, it was because of their injustice toward others. It was because Israel had become like the world…had become the machine. They had become a powerful nation that stood on the shoulders of others (I find it quite telling that Solomon built his temple with slave labor, when every year Pesach was celebrated to remember their own slavery).
The world is a self-serving system. The world looks out only for itself. The world will get ahead, no matter what. How many people did Jesus confront because of personal morality? I can think of two, and in both cases the confrontation was extremely mild compared to his confrontation with those who acted in injustice. The first was the woman caught in adultery, and he spent more time on the Pharisees who were trying to condemn her than he did on her. The only thing he said to her was to go and stop sinning, which is good, sound advice, as adultery is a selfish act (which makes it of the world). The second incident was the Samaritan woman at the well, and he didn’t even confront her for not being married to her current lover. He confronted her for lying, as a means to prove who he said he was.
I believe that personal morality is important. Immorality on a personal level can have a profound effect on who we are, but it’s still personal. At some point, I get to choose what effects me negatively and what does not. It’s like the law of the Sabbath, which says no work on the Sabbath because it is to be a day of rest. However, what if I find mowing my lawn to be the most relaxing thing ever? Am I then breaking the Sabbath? According to Jewish law, I am, but according to the spirit of the law, I’m not.
WE’VE LOST SIGHT
If we spent more time focusing on fighting against the true system of the world, and much less against the personal morality of others, we really would change the world, and we would be hated by many for it. For a decade I’ve stood perplexed as churches have been run like corporations. I’ve been dumbfounded by Christian support of a war for money. I’ve watched some of the “holiest” people raise their hands in support of measures that improve our lot at the expense of others. I’ve seen them jeer the “Occupy” crowd instead of realizing the truth of their message – this world is a self-serving place, and those in power intend to keep their power at our expense.
You would think that a nation with such a long history of having Christianity as the majority religion (and at some points by a wide margin) would not be in such dire straights. Atheists haven’t spent 200 years in the political arena, creating a system of inclusion and power, but Christians have. We’ve lost our focus. We’re not supposed to be here just to hold out until heaven. We’re supposed to make this world a better place, and that has a lot less to do with tsk’ing at immodest teenagers, and much more to do with fighting against the way we treat one another.
The entirety of sin can be summed up in selfishness. In the story of the Garden, Eve ate the fruit out of selfishness. Selfishness was the first and only sin. It is the root of it all.
The world is a selfish place, and we’ve bought into it hook, line and sinker. We build million dollar sanctuaries in neighborhoods surrounded by starving people. We shop at Walmart, knowing full well that our products were made by child labor and underpaid workers (and few of us actually even care to think about that). We buy Hummers and put Jesus fish on them, and the consequences to the environment (of which we are supposed to be stewards) be damned.
There should be a distinction between us and the world. That’s a clear tenant of Christianity. However, the distinction will not be made in the movies we refuse to see or the words we do not say. The distinction will be made purely on the level of how we treat others, both as individuals, and as an institution. If I preach that cursing is wrong, then go and buy a diamond that was dug up by slave labor, I’ve supported the world.
RENEW THE WORLD
So, be not of this world…renew it. Some are beginning to grasp this. Shane Claiborne gave up everything he had to go live with the homeless in Philadelphia. But he didn’t go live with them just to say he lived with the homeless. He started a community. An entire movement based on helping each other out. People are off the streets and are being fed because he put the system of the world behind him. Others are doing similar things around the globe. They are renewing the world, and as a result they are truly infuriating the system.
They are being hated for love, which is the way of righteousness.