A devout friend who has since left this world told me not long before he died that he took no pleasure from anything in this world. When I suggested that God’s creation is very good, he replied that it is all fallen and corrupted, and therefore it is only the unseen things that are above that are of any value. I pointed to an orange tree hanging bright with lovely fruit and said, ‘just like the Garden of Eden’, but he brushed that aside. Was he correct in his conclusion?
When Isaiah the prophet (8th century BC) was taken up into the presence of YHVH, he heard those in His presence singing “Holy holy holy is YHVH of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory!” (Isaiah 6:3). The Earth itself speaks of the glory of its Creator, just as “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). The New Testament confirms this in Romans 1:20: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made, so that men are without excuse.” And yet, “The earth also is polluted under the inhabitants thereof, because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24:5), and, “the creation was subjected to futility, not by its own will, but because of the One who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until the present time” (Romans 8:21-23).
What then are “the things of this world” that we are cautioned not to love? Perhaps the intention is the polluted river of human consciousness defiled by the sin flowing from the early Adam, corrupted down to our present time, filling the world with the perversion of nature, wars, rebellion, murder, theft and the grotesque distortion of man himself that we have grown accustomed to as “normal life.”** This paradigm of corrupted consciousness and its fruits born of passing modes in half-truths is the world to be avoided, the polluted river from which we are admonished to not drink of. But the snow-capped mountains against ultramarine skies and white clouds, the colored sunrises and sunsets and rainbows, the living rivers filled with trout and salmon and wild forests filled with elk and deer and blueberries yet declare the glory of their Creator, are not to be rejected.
One of the finest minds to arise from Christendom, C.S. Lewis, said wisely, “If you live for the next world, you get this one in the deal; but if you live only for this world, you lose them both.” And the Messiah said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all other things shall be added unto you,” and, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Our calling is to serve God in this world, its caretakers no less than Adam and Eve, to “strengthen the things that remain that were about to die” (Revelation :2). While anchored in the eternal, we are responsible for the temporal.
The pure pleasures of God’s creation are bestowed upon us for our enjoyment. But many are they throughout history who have interpreted this passage by withdrawing from the world into monastic celibacy. There some would self-flagellate to suppress that which God had given for our joy and the continuance of Life. In so doing, pent up anxiety has often enough been vented in such disgraces as the torture racks and fires of the Inquisitions, and other persecutions in the tragic perversion of the “Good News”.
In denying of God-given pleasures in this world, some seem to forget that the first miracle performed by the Messiah was to turn water into wine at a wedding in the Galilee- wine, not grape juice- but very fine wine. Perhaps it was His intention to deliver a message to all of mankind with that sign, that the pleasures in this world are to be enjoyed with thanksgiving.
*“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world”- 1 John 2:15-17.
** “sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming”- Colossians 3:5.