At Home in the World?

TL;DR
To what extent should Christian feel at home in the world? How might a person’s answer impact their engagement with the climate crisis?

The Longer Readt
Having recently moved from the edge of London to a village on the edge of the New Forest, my family and I are fortunate enough to be surrounded by more nature than perhaps at any point in our lives. Having recently left pastoral ministry to support my wife as she took up a position as a seminary lecturer, I also have more free time to explore the countryside around me. Last week I decided to walk the hour’s walk to the next village for a coffee. The route goes over farmland, through woodland, over streams and past a 13th Century church. I feel very privileged and blessed to live in this part of the country.

On the way home, I got to thinking how at home I feel in nature and in the countryside. Which got me reflecting on a teaching point that I have heard over the years, and one I have probably taught and preached myself at various points. Namely, that Christian’s should not feel at home in the world’.

The refrain that is oft-repeated is that Christian’s are ‘in the world but not of the world’. Sometimes supported by verses like Phil 3:20 that speak of our ‘Citizenship’ being ‘in heaven’ and others. This is usually packaged with a belief that the goal of the Christian life, and indeed what Jesus came to achieve, is our ‘going to heaven when we die’.

FWIW, I have for many years believed that the final destination for God’s people is a New Creation (whether that be recreated or restored) and that Christian’s as New Creation people have a part to play in being God’s agents here in the world. As so have always felt an affinity and sense of connection to this world. A desire to see it cared for, protected, and its resources used sensibly and equitably. To my mind, if the goal is to live in some ethereal spiritual dimension forever why bother too much with this physical world much at all? Perhaps that is unfair and an unintentional straw man, but I would value your thoughts.

To what extent should Christian feel at home in the world? How might a person’s answer impact their engagement with the climate crisis?

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My husband did a study once of how the word translated world (kosmos) is used in the NT epistles. If I remember right he was looking specifically at James 1:27 where it talks about the religion God accepts is providing for widows and orphans and keeping oneself unpolluted/uncorrupted/unstained by the world. I think in many uses kosmos is not the same as our idea of Creation, or the cosmos, but rather it is the systems that run the world; money, power, military might, politics, etc. The world is where it is not shalom ruling and the Kingdom of God is where shalom is ruling, so the world is used as a foil and contrast for “where things are the way God intends them to be.” So I take the in the world but not of it to mean we have to function and live in the systems of our societies. But our citizenship is in God’s Kingdom and we don’t let the systems of the world own our hearts. Those systems will eventually be dismantled and God will rule. In that way the world will come to an end. But not in the sense of the planet or Creation.

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For me when I think of “‘at home in the world” I believe it’s usually a reference to secularism in some form or another. Our main goal should not be to make our life the best it can be at the expense of others. Like I should not buy more stuff when I know the guy next to me is digging in trashcans for food. I also don’t believe we are actually called to live in poverty just so others can all eat. Nothing evil about it, but not what’s called for. As in I don’t believe God expects us to only have 2 shirts and eat canned beans and rice so that others can also have those things. We should enjoy life. But it should not be all we live for. I don’t believe it means not being comfortable in our earthly existence. If he did not want us to enjoy this world it would not be so amazing.

My thoughts exactly. The world, its powers, structures, politics, military-industrial complexes, constitutions, injustice, inequity. Babylon. We will always have with us. Hence the poor.

I am reminded of a haunting melody sung by Sacred Harp singers I heard first in the movie Cold Mountain. My father was born a few miles from where that particular song was recorded. Cold Mountain- I'm Going Home - YouTube

I think that for those whose life is hard, the promise of a new creation gives hope. My personal theology is that we are in the Kingdom of God at present as well, and our purpose is to act as representatives of God to care for all creation, not that I do so well at all times.

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There are writers like Wendell Berry who (I think unnecessarily) held the Apostle Paul a bit out at arm’s length over the issue of whether or not we are “at home” in this world. Because so many Christians have historically used this understanding of an ephemeral and passing material world as an excuse to then justify our neglect or exploitation of it, Berry associated that then with Paul’s teaching and decided … so much the worse for Paul. Berry is very much about rootedness and “place” - knowing and caring for our home, ideally through and for many generations.

So I really like the way you put that, @Christy, of seeing the “world” as being the material systems of the world instead of thinking the whole of creation is suddenly to be seen as “disposable”.

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Hello brother! Thanks for posting.

To the first question–a Christian should feel completely at home in the world. Usually when the Scriptures refer to not being “of the world”, it’s the same sort of connotation as not being “of the flesh”. That is, as Christy pointed out, not being corrupted or beholden to:

…or to the powers of the Devil and sin. That is what it means to be worldly, as far as I understand it. We are in this world. God intended us to be in this world. And God will either restore or recreate this world and, lo and behold, we shall be in this world.

The importance of the body in Jewish understanding is critical for understanding the context of the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the importance of our physical bodies, and our place in the world. It’s incredibly ancient Greek and even, at times, particularly Gnostic, for people to think of the physical world as ultimately bad or meaningless, or for people to think of the physical body as a mere vessel for spirit or, worse, a prison for the soul. God made this world, and He intends to restore it. Heaven and Earth are to become one, after all.

As to the second–it makes perfect sense to trace one’s engagement with the climate crisis with how one views the world. I believe that there is an impact with how Christians view and deal with creation and the climate issues of our day. And even then, you could have a Christian who holds to the idea that Earth really doesn’t matter too much in the long run yet cares about taking care of creation for the sake of future generations and because it is a mandate from God (going back to the Garden). Likewise, you could have a Christian who holds to the idea that the Earth matters and that’s why it will be restored/re-created, but because of this, there’s no need to fret about what happens to this Earth.

Your new home sounds absolutely blissful, by the way. I might be getting a bit covetous! :stuck_out_tongue:

-Joshua W.

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Good question – it’s funny, I’m involved with the discussions of how science and faith fit together in this forum, but also just finished a virtual conference about the intersection of faith and art, and it’s really interesting how there are often similarities in trying to reconcile faith with something else even when the two topics (science and art) seem opposite in many ways. Anyway, the impression I get from some of the artists who spoke, especially visual artists, is that sometimes American evangelicalism can be hostile to art or have a hard time seeing how it has immediate benefit to “the gospel mission” unless it’s something really obvious like illustrating a Bible story; but art as a vocation – the idea of looking for, appreciating, and creating beauty can almost be seen like a selfish indulgence that’s too “of the world” and not in line with the really “important” things.

There are some iterations of Christianity that can tend to turn idolatry into a witch hunt… as in, feeling like if you start to enjoy anything to a great degree, you should probably back off lest it become an idol. I’ve often had times where I’ve had guilty feelings about enjoying something (or if not, wondered whether I should have them), and I think that idea of “not being conformed to the world” or not being “of the world” had a part to play in that. But it is very helpful to look at the world more as a “system”… and in that sense, it can mean that it may not be a straight binary of church vs. world that might be easier to parse, but that churches and individuals still have a choice of whether to embrace that system.

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Ah, I love art!

I wonder if this “hostility” to art is also a bit of residual Reformation hatred of icons. Beautiful churches were destroyed because of this, and many Reformation churches that sprung up were quite plain.

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You’re probably right – and maybe that needed to happen to some degree, but it’s also sad to think of just how much of art history is centered around Christian themes, and how different that is today.

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I think that people drawn to make art are often searching for or working out meanings through images the way @Christy recently described working through ideas by discussing them here. Darn, I can’t find the actual quote now but the idea was something like an ‘interactive processor’. Anyway I think drawing and the visual arts generally are a fine way to access how one feels about this world, ones role in it and what one is drawn to.

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I remember reading about being an “external processor” in that discussion but may not have read far enough to the interactive part yet… but yes, visual arts have so much potential to reveal aspects of the world and humans’ relationship to it and to each other. I wonder whether my particular bent of Christianity in my past has been inordinately drawn to black-and-white binaries, and therefore are more attracted to trying to “prove” the Bible through scientific means (overt YECism, etc.) rather than simply using art to display the world as they see it – I think many have become afraid of subjectivity (and I include myself in this but I’m trying to reform).

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Good question! I think it strikes at the heart of some of what I consider ludicrous views of creation and stewardship that some Christian groups promote today.

There are examples of both a stewardship and a concern mindset in Scripture (whether one literally interprets Genesis or not and other parts of Scripture) for creation and one that indicates that too much focus on the material creation and this life, to the exclusion of the Spiritual dimension, is very unhealthy. The issue is not either - or but both - and.

Although it may sound quite trite, it would seem that moderation and a healthy tension of these two areas is appropriate. To have very little or no regard for our responsibility to the material/natural order would seem to smack of failing in our responsibility to uphold our stewardship and concern for creation responsibilities. We must remember that we can’t divorce responsibility for these things with the connection people have to them for their very lives, livelihoods, health/well-being etc. Therefore, there is a direct connection implied to effectively and lovingly maintaining our world with our love of others which is the second great commandment according to Jesus. I also believe that loving God (the first great command and the most important command of the OT in the shema passage) is predicated primarily on showing love to God by obeying the second great command so to fulfill the first command also involves the responsibility of looking after, and caring for our world. If I’m correct, then care and stewardship of creation is connected back to what God and Jesus have clearly outlined as of utmost importance in this life.

However, as with many things found in the Bible, one has to be careful not to go too far with this type of thinking. It is also paramount to show love and obedience to God with all our heart by understanding that God alone in paramount. Our ultimate end according to the Bible is a new heaven and a new earth with God being honored and glorified forever. As the great divines of the church stated in the past “The Chief end of man (used for both men and women) is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever” which can only take place fully in the next life. Since people are so easily distracted (the monks who intentionally practiced regular times of refocusing on God (8 or more times in a day) as a main part of their daily structured rituals said their main problem was keeping focused on God! Clocks were created to help in this process of keeping focused on remembering and glorifying God!) it is quite important to create a sense of not feeling entirely at home in the world. Otherwise we start to easily drift away from God, even if we are Monks!! This is not impossible if we embrace our natural discontent that manifest itself in people trying to fill the Spiritual void in their lives with vice (love of money, sex, drugs, gambling etc.), distractions (family, work/overwork, overdoing good deeds (humanitarian, church/mission work, community service etc.), beauty/creativity (nature, painting/art/music/sculpture/drama etc.), pursuit of knowledge/understanding/wisdom (such as secular/philosophical/theological wisdom)) and any other thing that separates us from the love of God. The Spiritual void is an intimate relationship with God himself, as we see in the wisdom literature/throughout the Bible and without God at the center and as a unifying feature, all becomes meaningless.

So, in summary, as beautiful as the material life can be at times (including nature itself), they all point to the centrality of God and glorifying/obeying/enjoying him in the next life. We can live out the best life possible by following the shema and Jesus words to love others which includes being the best stewards of creation we can be, which according to Christian theology involves the third member of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit, leading and directing us. However, this must always be in a healthy tension with our ultimate destination which is a new heaven and a new earth where we will glorify God and enjoy God forever. I would recommend the most excellent book by J. I. Packer - Knowing God which talks about these types of things and much more, for anyone who has not read it.

Indeed!

One might say that art is one of the only ways some people can truly express how they feel about the world, about themselves, and about others. On a larger scale, studying a culture’s art is one of the ways we learn more about that specific culture, how the people viewed themselves, and how they viewed the world.

Tell me more about your thoughts on today’s art. I’d love to hear them.

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Well, my knowledge is scant – I was just thinking in terms of the enormous impact that Christianity has made on art in the Renaissance and other periods, how it was so integral to many painters’ view of life, while it’s more secularized now. But there are still Christian artists out there, in many ways similar to Christian scientists, looking at the world God made and being influenced by it in a way that honors God. But I also realize that we can be too stringent about what “Christian art” is – it doesn’t have to be a picture of a story from the Bible – it could just be a way to praise God on paper (or whatever medium).

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All of us privileged are at home in the world and complicit in staying there in our politics. Half the world has no home.

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