Not long ago, I heard someone saying that the world was evil and sinful and that Christians should avoid and ignore the world, focusing instead on the coming reign of God. The role of Christians in the world around it has been debated since the very beginning, but I would disagree with the idea that the world is completely evil, and so does Lutheran theology. The devil can’t create anything; only God can create things. All the devil (or sin and evil, if you prefer not to believe in an actual “devil”) can do is warp things.
God created the whole world and all that is in it. He is present in all things, always beside us in the world. Nothing that God has created can ever be wholly evil. It can be twisted by the devil and used for evil purposes, but it is not by nature evil. Everything we have, everything in heaven and on Earth, is daily given, sustained, and protected by God. That includes the food we eat and the clothes we wear. Now, both can be used for bad purposes, but being fed and clothed is good, right? Some things are easier to misuse than others, but that doesn’t mean that that they are by nature evil. God provides for us through the things he has created, through the whole world we live in and all the creatures that inhabit it. Our daily needs are fulfilled as gifts from God, not evil things from the devil.
It is true that the world is broken and twisted by sin, and so is everyone who lives in it, including you and me. This is not because human nature is bad. God created human nature to be good, and recognizes it as his own work even as sinful as we are now. After the fall, we became corrupted by sin so deeply that nothing is left whole and pure and only God can separate the sin from our nature. Even when we try to do good, we don’t always succeed, and we’re not always as focused as we should be on doing good. Both goodness and sin are present at the same time and in the same place.
We know that we are held captive by sin and cannot free ourselves. We depend on God’s grace and love to free us from the dominion of sin. It isn’t just individuals who are captive to sin, either—all of creation is. Theologians like to talk about “systemic sins”—that’s a fancy way of saying that everything is affected by sin, and it’s not always traceable to single people or causes. Things like poverty, war, hunger, homelessness, inability to afford medical care—those things are sins that are not the result of any one person’s action or inaction. They just are. As Christians, it is our job to bring Christ’s redeeming presence into the world, in both word and deed, to individuals and communities. Sometimes that means rejecting parts of the world that are most twisted by sin. Sometimes that means going out into the world as God’s hands and feet, to bring good news and healing through word and deed. It always means shining a light in darkness and treating others with the same love and forgiveness God has granted us.
As Christians, we are in the world but not of it. Our true home is the kingdom of God, and yet we live here in this flawed and fallen world. Although the world is God’s good creation, it is also twisted by sin. We love the goodness while hating the sin. It can be difficult to balance the two perspectives. Being God’s children means we can’t just withdraw and write off everything as evil and bad. God called us and loves us despite our own sins, and renews us every day. As God’s children, we are sent out into the world to bring that healing where we can. We can’t fix everything; only God can do that when he comes in glory. But we can, with God’s help, make a difference in the lives of those around us, through prayer and action.
If you have any questions about Christianity, Christian life, or Christian theology, please leave a comment and I will address it next week.