Saturday, June 2, 2007

TO LOVE THE WORLD

"To believe in God is to believe in the salvation of the world. The paradox of our time is that those who believe in God do not believe in the salvation of the world, and those who believe in the future of the world do not believe in God."

"Christians believe in 'the end of the world,' they expect a final catastrophe, the punishment of others. Atheists in their turn invent doctrines of salvation, try to give meaning to life, work, the future of humankind, and refuse to believe in God because Christians believe in God and take no interest in the world. All ignore the true God: He who has loved the world! But which is the more culpable ignorance?"

"To love God is to love the world. To love God passionately is to love the world passionately. To hope in God is to hope for the salvation of the world."

"I often say to myself that, in our religion, God must feel very much alone: for is there anyone besides God who believes in the salvation of the world? God seeks among us sons and daughters who resemble him enough, who love the world enough that he could send them into the world to save it."

-- from In the Christian Spirit by Louis Evely


GETTIN' READY TO GO. I find Evely's quote compelling, arguable, and hopeful. I think back on all the "get ready to get out of here," "this ship is sinking; save yourself from it," "I'll fly away" end-times preaching, songs, books, tracts, prophesies, films, etc. that dominated my childhood spiritual formation. Everything focused on getting your own and others' souls ready for "The Great Escape." Things were bound to go from bad to worse and the upheavals of the 1960's provided ample evidence that things were spiraling out of control. "The End" could happen at any time, particularly in "the moment ye think not."

LOVE NOT THE WORLD. On the one hand, love for God translated, in part, into disgust with, separation from, and something like hatred for the material and social realities of the world as evidenced in the local community, national issues, and world events. 1 John 2:15-17 was our watchword. To be "worldly" meant to purchase beyond mere necessity, to get involved with, let oneself enjoy, or become nominally committed to almost anything that took attention, time or resources away from the church and its soul-saving mission. Love of money, entertainment and sports, in particular, took tough hits. And there was plenty of guilt to go around if you let on you might be unduly interested in them.

LOVING ROTTEN SINNERS. On the other hand, love for God translated, in part, into love for people. "Hate the sin; love the sinner" was oft repeated. Whatever other churches cared for (we weren't sure, but we suspected what they cared for was their buildings, their image, and the quality of their membership!), we cared for children who came from the other side of the tracks, for broken-hearted divorcees, for alcoholics and misfits of all sorts. We believed in a God who made no distinctions between people ("God is no respecter of persons") and before whom all people are rotten sinners in need of saving grace. We fully believed that soul salvation could change a person, turn their lives around in an instant.

GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD. Looking back, I don't think our lived, local theology and practice ever really attempted to bridge the gap between soul/spiritual/individual and material/physical/social. We never conceived of the "world" that God loved (John 3:16) as anything other than souls or people. Certainly it was not referring to nature or the environment or material well being or communities or societies or the principalities and powers and systems that exist in the world! Or was it?

BLATANTLY WORLDLY. I am not sure this 1960's-era holiness theology and worldview has changed much in forty years. We just don't talk in those terms anymore. Yet, either unwittingly or with a sleight of hand, we holiness folk have become, by our own standards, blatantly worldly. We have tax-sheltered retirement accounts, investment portfolios, and expensive toys for trivial entertainment. We waste inordinate amounts of time on ourselves. We imbibe in material luxuries that far exceed necessities. We still have a heart for the down-and-out and broken-hearted, though, by and large, they seem more distant and out of place in our facilities.

USING THE WORLD. All the while, we still haven't figured out that we are to love the world in terms of a comprehensive stewardship, in terms of addressing its systems, in terms of participating in its issues for the sake of understanding, leavening, and redeeming them. We don't love the world; we use it, exploit it and manipulate it--just like all those "worldly" people. We still haven't brought our understanding of the "Reign of God," or "Lordship," into the present time and our present "this worldly" challenges. So, Evely's quote is worth grappling with. May our love for God more and more translate into a passionate, sending and serving love for the world as well as the human beings that God loves.

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