The World—Is it Good or Bad?
By Father Stanley Harakas
One of the most confusing words in the Christian vocabulary is the “world.” Sometimes it seems to have good meanings, sometimes neutral and sometimes the word “world” has bad meanings. How can we make sense of this?
The World as the Creation is Good: In the story of the creation of the world by God, repeatedly we see that world is described as good (Genesis 1). Because God is goodness itself, the “world” as the creation is good. The Psalmist said, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).
The World is the Arena of God’s Activity: God did not simply make the world and then abandon it. The world remains His – “The heavens are thine, the earth also is thine; the world and all that is in it, thou hast founded them.” (Psalm 89:10). He cares for the world through His divine providence, which supports and sustains it.
But there is another side to this concern: “He judges the world with righteousness, he judges the peoples with equity” (Psalm 9:8). And that leads to a third understanding of the world.
The World as Fallen and Sinful: The Genesis story of the Fall of Adam and Eve (“Adam” in Hebrew means “human being”) points to the reality of human moral and spiritual brokenness. Demonic forces have corrupted the world and our human existence –“Through the devil’s envy death entered the world” (Wisdom 2:24). Evil swirls around us, in us, and among us. The “world” in this sense is opposed to the will of God, and subject to judgment. So the prophetic voice tells of the divine pronouncement: “I will punish the world for its evil, and the wicked for their iniquity” (Isaiah 13:11).
The World As Loved by God: In spite of the sinful and broken nature of the world and its inhabitants, God loves the world and seeks its redemption and salvation. You see, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John.3:16-17). It is necessary, then, that the world know about what God has done for it. So Jesus instructed His Disciples, “And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation’” (Mark.16:15). As a result of Jesus Christ’s saving work, the renewal of the world is made possible. There is the potential of salvation and “the trampling down Death” through Christ. But until then, there is enmity between those who belong to God and those whose lives are controlled in the world by demonic and evil forces. That is why St. Paul says to every Christian, “Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom.12:2).
~The Sounding, “The World—Is it Good or Bad?”, Orthodox Christian Network (OCN), http://myocn.net/the-world/. The Rev. Stanley S. Harakas is a priest of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America and is Archbishop lakovos Professor of Orthodox Theology Emeritus in the field of Orthodox Christian Ethics at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in Brookline, MA. Fr. Harakas is the author of five pamphlets and fifteen books, both scholarly and popular, and over one hundred thirty published scholarly articles and book contributions. For twenty-one years (1980-2000), he was a weekly columnist in the national Greek-American newspaper, The Hellenic Chronicle. He is a beloved teacher to generations of Greek Orthodox Christians in America, thanks to his many years as a professor and his prolific writings.