This overlaps considerably with previous posts.
According to John's description, the world is formed by various "lusts" or desires, and by "pride" and "boasting." We can respond faithfully to the world only when we discern the desires that shape the world and the desires and boasting provoked by the world.
"Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. . . ." (1 John 2:15-28).
Opposed to the family of the church is "the world." Both in his letter and his gospel, John talks a lot about "the world" (John 15-16; 1 John 2:15-17; 3:1, 13, 17; 4:1, 3-5, 9, 14, 17; 5:1, 4-5; 19). In some places, this word refers to humanity or creation that is the object of God's love (John 3:16), but in other places it refers specifically to humanity in its hostility to God (John 12:31; 14:30) and specifically to Judaism in its rejection of Jesus (cf. John 15:18-16:4). Here, John has the latter senses in mind: "The world" is not the creation itself, which God pronounced good, but a world-system organized in opposition to God and perhaps specifically Judaism in its opposition to Jesus (this is the specific world that is "passing away," v. 17). Applying this today, our surrounding culture is "the world," a cultural, social, and political system organized in hostility, or perhaps indifference, to God.
ALL THAT IS IN THE WORLD
John commands us not to love this world-system, and starkly states that if we love this world the love of God is not in us (v. 15; cf. James 1:27; 4:4). Probably drawing on the temptation of Eve in Genesis 3, John details the lure of the world under three headings. First, the world revolves around the "desire of the flesh," which might include sexual and sensual desire, but also might include the desires that lead to the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21). Second, the world operates by spectacle and show, arousing the desire of the eyes. Finally, the world operates according to the "pride of life." Life here, as in 3:17, probably refers to wealth, and includes the status that often accompanies wealth. Loving the world means idolizing Mammon, and striving for celebrity and fame.
The relationship between the world and desire is complex. Verse 16 indicates that desires and boastfulness make up the contents of the world – the desire of flesh, eyes, and boastfulness of life constitute the "all that is in the world." The end of verse 16, however, suggests that the world is the source of desires and boasts: The desire of flesh desire of eyes, and boastfulness of life are from the world. Desires thus make up the world, yet the world is also distinguished from the desires such that the world produces, evokes, and provokes desires and boastfulness. Verse 17 distinguishes the world as its desires as if the desires are accompaniments of the world.
To put it more sociologically, (sinful) human culture – its institutions, practices, products – are all embodiments of evil desire or boastfulness. John hints that we should evaluate the world not only on the basis of what’s done or what things it contains, but on the basis of desire. And desire has a multiple relationship with culture: Desires are the "contents" of culture – culture is made up of embodied dreams, aspirations, lusts; on the other hand, the world is the source of desire, evoking certain kinds of desire. John encourages us to ask what desires are embodied in roads, buildings, automobiles, iPods, coffee, customs, schools, and so on. John encourages us to penetrate below the surface of cultural life to the desires that shape and are formed by the world.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, October 16, 2006 at 07:11 AM
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