He Has Prayed for You to the Father: Christian Existence in the World
There is a great opposition between Christians and the world. This has been heralded in sermons, reflections, articles, leaflets and stickers. For the Christian, the world is full of dangers. The world is, and must ever be the Christian’s adversary. It is a sinful place, a kingdom of evil where the prince of evil is its god. In this kingdom, the fascinations of evil are its snares; the works of evil are its employments; and the triumphs of evil are its boast and its pride. However, the world is also the dwelling place of Christians, even though it is a temporal dwelling. So, do Christians pass through the world like soldiers running through the enemy’s camp and seeking to get to the protective covers of their own fortified camp? How do we understand the existence of Christians in the world?
While approaching the hour of his passion, Jesus in praying to the Father commended his disciples to the protecting hands of the Father. A very significant part of the prayer rendered by Jesus dwelt on the disciples and the world. He prayed: “I have given them your word and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask you to remove them from the world but to keep them from the evil one” (Jn 17:14-15).
The use of the word “world” by Jesus refers to the devil, the evil one and to that group of human beings who knowingly oppose the divine revelation in Jesus and who stand against God and his Christ. Even though God wants to save all humankind, God cannot save those who deliberately close themselves to the grace of God or who stand in opposition to God’s saving action with full knowledge and will. What is more evil about the world is the continuous drive of the world to enlist more individuals to embrace this opposition against divine revelation and against God. The prevalence of evil, the belief that those of the world cannot ascend to heavenly bliss, the wielding of power and possession of material things, and the control of the physical sphere by this set of individuals have made the concept of “world” simultaneously used with the physical world in Christian parlance.
There still exist a difference between the use of “world” by Jesus and the physical world, even though both cannot be completely separated intrinsically. First, is the fact that the physical world existed before the emergence of the evil world. Second, man was created and made to live in the physical world before the corruption brought by the evil one through sin. Third, the world was not meant to be just a passing way for man but his dwelling place, to master and to subdue. Fourth, man has an essential place in the world and in creation as the crowning beauty of God’s handiwork. Thus, anytime we talk about the existence of Christians in the world, these important notes should be kept in hand.
Christian existence in the world has been interpreted in various forms and ways. However, most of these conceptions explains the notion of Christian existence in the world in terms of Christians being contained in the world. The notion of being in the world when applied to Christian existence in the world differs from that of “being contained in”. We are in the world in a different sense from the sense in which water is in a glass, or in which gas is in a cylinder. As a conscious and existent being, the Christian does not exist in a vacuum; he is a part of the world and he exist within the world. Thus, the reality of the world is attached to the existence of the Christian. Christian existence is therefore attached to the world in which he lives. The Christian is not just a thing in the world, he is an inseparable part of the world. We dwell in the world, we are taken up in it, and we are absorbed in it.
The world is a necessary constituent of Christian existence; no world, no existence. The concept of Christianity only makes sense in the world. Outside the world, the idea of Christianity is not meaningful. Without the world there is no understanding of the self as a Christian. To be a Christian is to exist and to be in the world and stand out from the world. Christians give the world its value and meaning. For as the world exist and persist for the sake of Christian in it, Christians use the world as a means for self-fulfillment. For we are called to live in the light even though we are in a dark world. We are to shine our light to help those trapped in darkness find their way to the one true light, Jesus Christ. As we do this, we know that Jesus is our advocate at the Father’s side, asking that we be kept safe from the evil one.
Although it is true that Christians exist in the world, they however transcend the world. There is the tendency for the Christian to be completely absorbed in the world. Christians should resist this tendency. If they do not, they cease to exist as transcendent beings and they become things, articles, and objects among other objects surrounding them in the world. As things, articles and objects, they become tools of the evil one in the world. Jesus prayed that the Father would keep his disciples from evil, from being corrupted by the world, keeping their hearts free from sin, and from the power and craft of Satan. The world of evil is real and active in the world, and the Christian should be careful not to be entangled in its web. Paul warned don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity (Rom 12:2).
The Christian lives in the world; he finds a home in the world and cares for the world. The being of the Christian is fundamentally constituted in the world to which he, as a living being, is inextricably and unavoidably bound. The presence of true Christians in the world is a benefit to the world. If Christ were to remove men as soon as they become his followers, he would be taking away from the world its greatest blessings. True Christians are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
The Christian ideal is not freedom from work, but strength to do it; not freedom from temptation, but power to overcome it; not freedom from suffering, but joy in an abiding sense of the Father’s love; not absence from the world, but grace to make the world better by our presence; not holy lives driven from the world, and living apart from it, but holy lives spent in the world and leavening it. Some have thought that we would be more Christian if we were to withdraw into solicitude. But this is impossible for the mass of men, and it is in direct opposition to the example of Christ, and to the spirit of the gospel. True holiness does not mean a flight from the world, it lies in the effort to incarnate the gospel in everyday life.
In his interaction in the world, the Christian will have to come across and mingle with the unchristian. Nature never builds fences. The mountain slopes down to meet the valley, the day fades and darkens into night, the shore shelves off into the sea, but the exact point at which the one merges in the other is undetermined. Is there, then, no distinction between them? Is the daytime as the night because no eye can fix the instant when the gates unclose to let the morning through? Is the separation between land and sea unreal because between them lies a narrow strip over which they alternately hold sway? The Christian life must slope downward to meet the world and mingle with it. In business partnerships, in political interests, in social matters, in hundreds of affairs, the Christian and unchristian man must meet on neutral ground. Is the distinction between them therefore lost; even for an instant? In this meeting the Christian should uphold and propagate the truth of the gospel. He can only show his identity by being distinct and separate in his deeds and interactions
We cannot completely abandon the world and be distant from its people, cares and needs. It is in the world that our Christian live is tested and made whole. Here Jesus waits for us to savage the rest of his adopted brothers and sisters through our active work and outreach. Jesus is living next to you, in the brothers and sisters with whom you share your daily existence. His visage is that of the poorest, of the marginalized who are frequently the victims of an unjust model of development, in which profit is given first place and the human being is made a means rather than an end. Jesus’ dwelling is wherever a human person is suffering because rights are denied, hopes betrayed, anxieties ignored. There is no other place where we can find these situations except in the world we live in. Here in the world, in the midst of humankind, is a dwelling of Christ, who asks you to dry every tear in his name, and to remind whoever feels lonely that no one whose hope is placed in him is ever alone.
In carrying out these functions, there is a tendency that we get lost in the world. There is also the sure waves of persecution that will come our way. These Jesus prayed against and secured the Father’s protection over us. The righteous Christian is more excellent than his neighbour, but it is not seen in his being saved from suffering; it is in the way in which he meets it. Few things do more to raise the tone of our own Christian life, and to prove to men that there is a hidden property in religion which can turn the bitterest thing in this world into sweetness. Perseverance in persecution is such.
Christ has come into the world and therefore you need not go out of the world to meet him. He does not call you from your calling, but calls you in your calling. The world is where the Christian is called to bloom and flourish. Be of good cheer, Jesus has prayed for you.
- The Professed Christian and The Anonymous Christian:...
Anonymous Christians like the first son seem not to recognize their place in God. Ignorance, pride and sentiments have blinded them from acknowledging their true identity in God and accepting the authority of the Christ through the Church of God over