Sunday, June 03, 2012

The world is passing away

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in him. 16 For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever (1 Jn 2:15-17).

Unbelievers think passages like this reflect a false expectation regarding the imminent end of the world. But I think it’s the unbelieving interpretation that’s shortsighted, not John’s.

1 John is generally dated to the 90s. By that time, John was a very old man. His aunts and uncles were long gone. His parents and grandparents were long gone. Jesus had ascended 60 years earlier. One-by-one, his fellow disciples died. He likely outlived most-all of his cousins. And boyhood friends. Assuming he married, he may well have been a widower by this time.

So the world he knew as a boy was already a long lost world. Irretrievably past and gone. His world was rapidly passing away.

On the one hand the world has a perennial aspect, but in another respect, the world is perennially passing away.

This is a common refrain in Scripture:

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
    he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
    and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
    and his righteousness to children's children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
    and remember to do his commandments.
(Ps 103:15-18)
Lord, you have been our dwelling place
    in all generations.
2  Before the mountains were brought forth,
    or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
     from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
3 You return man to dust
    and say, “Return, O children of man!”
4 For a thousand years in your sight
    are but as yesterday when it is past,
    or as a watch in the night.
5 You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream,
    like grass that is renewed in the morning:
6 in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
    in the evening it fades and withers.
(Ps 90:1-6)
6 All flesh is grass,
    and all its beauty is like the flower of the field.
7 The grass withers, the flower fades
    when the breath of the Lord blows on it;
    surely the people are grass.
8  The grass withers, the flower fades,
    but the word of our God will stand forever.
(Isa 40:6b-8)
4 Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains forever.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.
(Eccl 1:4,11)
This is less about eschatology than the cemetery. For every generation, the world is passing away. Some of us live in times of rapid change, where the pace of change is accelerated. Urbanization. Dislocation. War. But every generation dies, and takes the world it knew to the grave. The shredded tapestry of shared experience and recollection. Lives intertwined. Boys and girls coming of age at the same time and place. Moving through the lifecycle in tandem. Birth, maturation, marriage, sickness, senescence, and death.

If we are rooted in this fleeting, fallen world, then we pass away as our world passes away. The better off we are in this life, the more we have to lose. We, and the world we knew, come and go as one living, aging, and dying organism. Branches on a common tree, shedding leaves as autumn overtakes the summer months. Only those rooted in heaven will survive to see another spring.

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