Loving “The World”

the_blue_marble_nasaFor Latter-day Saints, the new millennium has been pretty hard on “The World.” It has become the primary adversary in the war we imagine ourselves fighting—the sum total of everything that stands against us, and of everything that we must stand against.

We can all agree, of course, that the regular old world—meaning lakes and trees and mountains and stuff—is a wonderful thing. It is beautiful, pure, and divine. The world is just as God meant it to be, and we should all be grateful for its beauty and wonder.

But what is true of the world is not true of “the World,” by which we mean all of the people we interact with every day who hold different views about lots of things, nearly all of which have something to do with sex. “The World” is evil. It is full of lions and tigers and gay people. Even if we have to be in it, we should certainly ever be of it. It is what we must keep ourselves unspotted from.

Nothing new here. The distinction between “the Church” and “The World” is as old as, well, churches and worlds. In the Old Testament, the two principles often go by the names “Zion” and “Babylon,” about which the prophets had much to say. But the analogy is far from perfect. The Old Testament prophets were far less concerned than we are about sex. They were more worried about stuff like ignoring the poor, profiting from unrighteousness, and permitting rampant inequality in what was supposed to be the Kingdom of God —things that rarely rise to the level of “apostasy” in the modern Church.

Nonetheless, the distinction between “us” and “the world” persisted into the time of the New Testament—to the point that the first generation of Christian converts almost failed to build the Church because they were unwilling to have anything to do with “The World.” This pathology went all the way to the top: Peter, the head of the Church refused to have anything to do with gentiles until the Lord personally (well, in a dream at least) told him to cut it out:

On the morrow, as they went on their journey, and drew nigh unto the city, Peter went up upon the housetop to pray about the sixth hour: And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending upon him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air. And there came a voice to him, Rise, Peter; kill, and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. (Acts 10: 9-16)

This is perhaps the most significant thing that happened in the Church from the Death of Christ to the Reformation. The Lord told Peter very clearly that he has a responsibility to engage that part of “The World” that he has always kept himself separate from—even if it means that he has to accept things that he has always believed to be the worst of sins.

In a season when we are encouraged to be thankful for the good things in our life, I reflect on how grateful I am for the world. And also “The World.” There is really no difference between the two. There is not a “good world” full of flowers and trees and a “bad world” full of people who hate God and want to drag us down to hell. There are only God’s creations, all of which are exactly what God intended for them to be. They are not there for us to despise or define ourselves against, but to love and cherish and figure out how to incorporate into the Kingdom of Heaven. Like Peter, we are not allowed to use God as an excuse to avoid this sacred responsibility.


  1. shawnholyoak says:

    “There is really no difference between the two.”

    This and nothing more.

  2. Robert Oler says:

    So true that a black or white, “us vs them” world view is not conducive to a Christ-like attitude. But to suggest that “all of [God’s creations] are exactly what God intended for them to be” misses the real crux of the issue. All of God’s human creations, at least, are intended to choose. Sometimes those choices go against what God hopes for us, hence the need for an Atonement.

  3. N. W. Clerk says:

    “There is not a ‘good world’ full of flowers and trees and a ‘bad world’ full of people who hate God and want to drag us down to hell. There are only God’s creations, all of which are exactly what God intended for them to be.”

    Then my thoughts that you are not even close to being correct must be exactly the thoughts God intended for me to think. Great!

  4. My thoughts exactly, N. W. Clerk.

    And I suppose that the gospel of repentance is no longer needed because we are exactly what God intended us to be. And we might as well blow the doors of the temple because there is now no distinction between the sacred and the profane.

  5. Thank you.

  6. Clark Goble says:

    Put me in the more traditional camp that thinks one can be in the world not of the world but that the world has traditionally been the opposition. This isn’t opposed to Christ but was pretty much how he inaugurated this break from the judaism of the times. It’s pretty hard to read the NT including Paul without seeing the apocalyptic rhetoric and near manichean dualism of good and evil.

    If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.

    This sort of thing is ubiquitous in all the scriptures. Now the same person who said the above also served those who were of the world seeking to change their perspective. So I don’t think they are as opposed as many are saying.

  7. Like Peter, we are not allowed to use God as an excuse to avoid this sacred responsibility.

    A lot of truth to this observation.

  8. I’ve been thinking today that every time the church has closed ranks to make “Zion” a smaller, more exclusive group, no revelation is necessary, only a policy change. Whenever it is suggested we need to expand blessings to a larger group of people, the argument against it is always that revelation is required. Apparently exclusivity is already such a part of our doctrine that no revelation is needed to practice it.

  9. EBK, yes, exactly. We are mistrustful of a God expansive enough to love the unacceptable – and so we impose restrictions to label some as acceptable enough to be loved, and reject the truth that we are all eternally loved in our unacceptability.

  10. So true, EBK. We need revelation to expand ordinances to previously excluded groups (blacks, women….), but shrinking the availability of saving ordinances to exclude certain groups is done surreptitiously and without mention of Christ or revelation. Very confusing.

    Mike, thank you for this post. I am having a hard time finding Christ in this new policy. Nephi’s caution to not put our trust in the arm of flesh just keeps popping into my head. I really appreciate your hopeful words at this time.

  11. EBK: that is an extremely astute point. Thank you.

  12. Peter’s vision was to share the gospel with all the world, Jew and gentile. And not just the Jews as had been done before this time.

  13. This latest entanglement of law, sex, exclusion, and zealous institutional power has put me in mind of an old story. Once upon a time, there was this big shot. His name, if memory serves, was Judah, and he was In Charge of Things. He ran things. People did as he said. When he saw a girl he liked, he took her and married her. When he saw another girl who he thought would be right for his eldest boy, he took her and made her his daughter-in-law. Then when the eldest boy died, he told his next oldest boy hey, you go in there and make a baby with her. That was the law, and Judah was in charge of the law, and people obeyed him because obeying him was the same as obeying the law, and if people don’t obey the law things fall apart. I mean, the second son presumed to assert some modicum of sexual self-possession, and disobeyed the law — ew! — and look what happened to him. So long story short the big shot in charge winds up kicking the widow out of his house — this is maybe the “exclusion” part? — until such time as he might once again have use of her reproductive services, because that’s what he does, he just orders everyone around, for the greater good of course, and expects them to obey. But as we all know, hee hee, she outfoxed him in the end. She fixed his wagon but good. But the weird thing is that the guy in charge actually LEARNED something from the whole experience, and said, She hath been more righteous than I, which is a thing that is very, very rarely heard from the lips of big shots about the people they have bossed around and excluded. It’s an interesting little story, insofar, of course, as it has been translated correctly.

  14. Sad and Scared says:

    This is gut wrenchingly bad, but I held out that maybe I was wrong in my reaction. I asked my neighbor (who is a devout Catholic) if this looked as bad to her as it felt to me. She said, “Yes it absolutely looks as bad as it feels to you. They’re punishing the parents by punishing their children.” Who does that? There are no words.

  15. Peter wasn’t the source of not teaching the Gentiles; Jesus also did not teach the gentiles, only healing one when her faith could not be turned away. Peter was doing what his Lord had done, teaching only the Jews.

  16. Last night I watched ‘The Poisoner’s Handbook’ on PBS via Netflix. One thing that really struck me is that until about the 1920s, when forensic chemistry was developed, poison was an incredibly common form of murder because there was no agreed-upon method of testing for it that would hold up in court. (Also because you could just buy arsenic at the drugstore.) It was only due to a huge expansion of scientific knowledge that it became harder and harder to poison people and get away with it, and so these murders went way down.

    So yeah, we have more of the sex stuff, but we have less of people STRAIGHT UP MURDERING EACH OTHER. And so the next time someone declares over the pulpit that the world is worse than it’s ever been, I’m gonna roll my eyes so far back in my head that they will be in danger of getting stuck.

  17. Joni, this is a really important point. Are you familiar with Steven Pinker’s book _The Better Angels of Our Nature_? It’s about 800 pages of data-driven analysis demonstrating, pretty conclusively, that “the world” is about as safe and benign as it has ever been.

  18. Frank, remember the divine injunction? After his resurrection, Jesus commanded the disciples to go unto all the world to preach to every creature and baptize them. The disciples did not heed this command. At least not until Peter actually saw real Gentiles face-to-face, witnessed their goodness and realized that they were no different than the Jews in their ability to believe and feel the Holy Ghost. Only then did he connect the dots to his vision two days prior, and only then did he finally heed the Savior’s command. I don’t believe our leaders have actually spent much time with gay people and their families to see how Peter saw when he visited Cornelius in his own home those things that broke down his prejudices.
    Peter’s experience was not unlike that of President Kimball, although President Kimball’s revelation was not a vision, dictation or voice, but a confirmation of the spirit of things he had been studying, questioning and praying about for a long time. He had a notebook full of stories and letters. African Americans became more than just a doctrinal concept or policy issue – he began to see them as people with hopes and dreams just like Cornelius. And that got him to question his own long-held prejudices and preconceived notions. In his own words: “Day after day, and especially on Saturdays and Sundays when there were no organizations [sessions] in the temple, I went there when I could be alone.I was very humble . . . I was searching for this . . . I wanted to be sure. . . .I had a great deal to fight . . . myself, largely, because I had grown up with this thought that Negroes should not have the priesthood and I was prepared to go all the rest of my life until my death and fight for it and defend it as it was.” (BYU Studies article by Edward Kimball)

  19. @Jack

    Remember the story where Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes, but then only gave them to worthy temple recommend holders?

    Neither do I.

  20. John Mansfield says:

    I do remember a parable given by Jesus involving a party opened to all that could be gathered from the surrounding area, but it ended in weeping and gnashing teeth for some guests who were forcefully kicked out by the host because they had not dressed themselves in special party clothes as they ought to have. That’s probably not anyone’s ponderizing passage this week.

  21. #ponderize