There are two ways of looking at the world in the Bible. One tells us that the world is a terrible place. The other tells us that the world is a wonderful place. Both are true, and we have to understand this and keep them together.
First the tradition that the world is a terrible place. This comes through quite clearly in today’s second reading, for example, where in the letter of James we hear that pure religion means ‘keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world’. That word ‘uncontaminated’ is quite strong, isn’t it? It says that the world is a place of pollution, that the world will make us spiritually ill if we allow it to do so. It’s a reference to the world created by jealous, greedy, selfish human beings, who will satisfy themselves without thinking about what is good for others.
What about the other tradition that the world is a wonderful place? If you read the creation story in Genesis then you will see that every so often the story pauses to tell us how God looked on his creation, and declares it to be good – including human beings. No wonder: because we are made in the image of God. And we know that God is love, so we are called into being by love, made for love, and drawn back to God through the divine love reaching out to us in Christ. We read in John 3.16 that ‘God loved the world so much that he sent his only Son, so that we should not perish, but have eternal life’. God loved the world so much …
So there you have it. The world is a place where we sometimes get stuck. We fail to see the hand of the Creator, and see nothing beyond this world. People lose their sense of proportion. Something in them dies. Their spirit shrivels. Take ambition, for example. There is nothing wrong with wanting to get ahead in life. A competitive spirit can even give a bit of spice to life. But we all know people who have become ruthless. They get ahead, yes, but at what cost to themselves and to others. We remember another saying of Jesus’ about the world: ‘What does it profit someone to gain the world only to lose their soul?’
Let’s love the world, then, of which we are part. Let’s rejoice in the world, and the many good things within it. But we can only do this safely if we see beyond the world to God. The more we look on our world and see God, the more we will be humbled and challenged God’s call to us in Christ. ‘Give and it shall be given to you: pressed down, shaken together and running over.’ If, on the other hand, you live for yourself alone, then you will be, as the letter of St James says, contaminated by the world. There will be hardness in your heart, and not compassion; there will be greed in your life, and not generosity; there will be ambition and not responsibility. God calls us to a higher way.