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. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
The notion of “the world” gets very different treatment in different passages of the New Testament. John in his Gospel tells us: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). On the other hand, in his epistle quoted above John tells us not to “love the world or the things in the world.” The reason for the inconsistency is because “the world” can imply different things depending on the context. On the one hand, “the world” can refer to the beautiful creation which God called into existence. On the other hand, “the world” can also refer to the world of the Fall in which humans attempt to see and use the creation as having nothing to do with God. This second view is sometimes dualistic in nature treating the ‘spiritual’ as good but the ‘physical’ as bad. [And one shouldn’t confuse these ideas of ‘the world’ with a distinction between rural versus urban where ‘nature’ is seen as good but ‘human made’ is seen as evil. Even human made things can serve God’s will and purpose and plenty of sins are committed by rural residents.]
Some Orthodox theologians have tried to clear this distinction a bit by noting that there is nothing wrong with physical creation as it is a gift created by God, therefore is naturally good. It is the misuse of creation which has led to it being ‘fallen’ and seen in a negative way. This is related to a Platonic notion in which goodness (also beauty) is viewed as those things which fulfill their God-given purpose. Things which do not fulfill their God-given purpose are viewed negatively. Humans influence and affect how the things of the world are used—whether or not they are used for their God-given purposes. Orthodox scholar Anestis Keselopoulos comments:
It is also characteristic that when Scripture talks about the deviation, it does not use the terms ‘material’ or ‘bodily,’ but principally the term psychikos, which denotes a wrong use of material things or of the body as autonomous, and in general an opposition to the order of the spiritual-material creation.
This tendency on man’s part to dominate creation in a way contrary to nature, expressed in his making its autonomous, has as a direct consequence man’s attempt to remove God from the world and confine Him to ‘heaven,’ to a realm ultimately alien and distant from that attainable in human experience. Thus the field remains open for man’s dominance in nature and more generally in history. Man interprets the world and subjugates it to his individual intellectual ability. The world, which is regarded as an object – as something lying outside man and over against him – is organized in a rationalistic way, with a view to serving the autonomy of human needs and desires. (MAN AND THE ENVIRONMENT, pp 84-85)
When humans fail to see God’s presence and will in the created order, they treat the physical world as an object which they can treat and do with as they please. Only when we remember we did create the world, nor do we really own it, but rather we are stewards appointed by God to take care of His creation, do we fulfill our own purpose in creation and help the rest of the created order attain its God-given purpose.
Christians have to resist the temptation to see the world as nothing more than physical without a spiritual nature. Or to see that which goes on in the Church as ‘spiritual’ while anything outside the church as only physical. In the Church we treat the physical world with spiritual reverence. We bless water and then use the water to bless our homes, bodies, businesses, and possessions. We take the things of the earth – wheat and grapes and make them into bread and wine – and then consecrate them into the Body and Blood of Christ. We treat the world as sacred and related to all that we consecrate in the Church, including people, the poor, the needy, the stranger and the sojourner.
Love through and as the Church in the world, not perfected ritualistic performance apart from the world, leads to the eventual sanctification of the world through the presence of those who have been transformed in and through the Church. In other words, as Saint John Chrysostom observed, ‘When I leave the altar, I go to the altar of my brother.’ (Stephen Muse, WHEN HEARTS BECOME FLAME, p 66)
We don’t consecrate the world through perfect performance of rituals (as some Orthodox clergy seem to believe) but through perfect love. We receive God’s blessings in Church and then take that blessing into all the world.
And Jesus said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
Our life in the Liturgy is meant to be light to the world and the salt of the earth. It is not meant to remain in the Liturgy or in the church building, but to be carried into all the world (Matthew 5:13-14) and shared with all those in need.