Should Christians love this world?
A Catholic parish has, as part of its mission statement, “we love this world.”
Does this bother anyone? Besides me, I mean.
I Googled the whole phrase, and here are the top 5 results:
- Do Not Love the World
- What Does It Mean to “Love not the things of the world?”
- What does it mean that we are not to love the world?
- Love Not the World
- 1 John 2:15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone …
I’m not going to mention the parish by name. My concern is probably trivial. But it bothers me enough to write about it, because it reminds me of Pope Francis’s technique of speaking in vagaries. It’s political. Politically correct.
How to Defend “We Love This World”
You might say that God create the world, and we should love everything God made, therefore, we should love this world.
You might also say that the book of John tells us that God “so loved the world that he sent his only son …”
Or, perhaps, you could say that we magnify God’s love for us by radiating it to the world.
Finally, you could say that the “this” refers to the kingdom of God, not to the temporal world.
Maybe you can think of other ways to defend the motto. Those three seem pretty strong, though.
But, do they stand up to reason?
What Does the Bible Say?
I can’t find anywhere in the Bible that tells us we should love the world. That doesn’t mean we can’t do something just because we’re not specifically told to do it. That would be like walking around with your shoelaces untied because nobody told you to tie them.
The problem is, the Bible does talk about loving the world. Three powerful verses from John’s first letter address the issue. And there’s no vagary whatsoever.
From 1 John 2:15 (Douay-Rheims):
Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him.
It seems to me that saying “we love this world” is a direct refutation of the John’s instruction to “love not the world,” doesn’t it? It would be like saying “I will not tie my shoes” in response to a parent’s order to “tie your shoes.” Considering the specificity of the two statements, I can reach no other conclusion: the authors of this parish’s mission statement reject St. John’s first letter.
Perhaps more important, we learn that love of this world displaces love of God. “If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him.” Sort like a man cannot serve two masters.
So far it seems that:
- We are not to love the world, and
- if we do, we can’t love God.
Now, maybe succeeding verses will offer some mitigating information that makes it okay to love the world.
1 John 2:16 (Douay-Rheims):
For all that is in the world, is the concupiscence of the flesh, and the concupiscence of the eyes, and the pride of life, which is not of the Father, but is of the world.
Well, shoot. That doesn’t seem to soften 1 John 2:15 at all, does it? Actually, 2:16 seems to double down by offering reason why we shouldn’t love this world. Concupiscence of the flesh and the eyes, pride of life. And we learn that these things are not from God, which pretty much destroys that first defense, doesn’t it?
Maybe we should read the next verse, then.
1 John 2:17 (Douay-Rheims):
And the world passeth away, and the concupiscence thereof: but he that doth the will of God, abideth for ever.
Now, we’re getting into the two worlds. The one that lasts forever and the one that passes away.
Jesus answered: My kingdom is not of this world.
So, there are two worlds, it seems. Or, at least, a world and a non-world. Jesus’ kingdom is in that other world, not this one.
Do the Defenses of the Motto Stand?
Let’s see if any of the four defenses for the motto hold water.
The first, that we should love the world because God made it, seems to be dispelled by 1 John 2:16. Love of this world is driven by fleshly desires and pride of life which did not come from the Father but from the god of this world, Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4).
The second defense, that God loved this world so we should too, is more problematic. Considering John wrote both verses (John 3:16 and 1 John 2:15), we have to assume that both conditions are true. God loved his creation enough to send his only son to save it, and we are not to love the world. Perhaps because the world became so corrupted that God had to sacrifice his only son to save it. Just because a man loves his daughter doesn’t mean he wants other dudes loving her. God sees the whole of his creation; we see only the juicy fruit on the tree in the middle. Maybe God wants to monopolize love of the world, and he wants love of God to monopolize us.
The third defense says we show God’s love by loving his world. John’s letter tells us flat out this isn’t true, so there’s no need to argue further.
Finally, the fourth defense says the parish’s motto refers, not to the temporal world, but to the world where Jesus’ kingdom is. Perhaps the motto does refer to the kingdom of God, but why leave this important distinction to the imaginations of the reader? The church has a serious duty to teach the faith, and teaching should be in unambiguous terms. Most Catholics don’t want to become theologians. That’s one of the reasons we’re Catholic. We want professional theologians to give us straight answers to those things that can be answered straightly. And the question of whether or not we should love “this world” is subject to a straight answer, which is “no!”
“No, do not love this world, because this world is all about concupiscence and pride. Love that world, the world of the kingdom of God where Jesus reigns and prepares our eternal home.”
The Real Problem With Flabby Mottos
The real problem with this parish’s motto is its failure to teach and its possible scandal. Scandal means placing stumbling blocks in the path to salvation. A motto that forces the faithful to question whether the parish is right or the first letter of John is right creates such a scandal. In fact, for the regular parishioner who probably never read 1 John, loving this world seems like an obvious and virtuous thing to do. In other words, the parish motto leads people into temptation!
The fix is easy, but pride probably prevents it. Change the motto to “We love God’s Kingdom.” If this world is part of God’s kingdom, then the intent never really changed. But if this world is not of God’s kingdom, the new motto will protect parishioners from sinful error. Or, at least, will avoid leading them into temptation.