Today, while waiting for a beef burrito at a Zip Trip gas station, I was jolted by my cultural cluelessness. What planet I have been living on for 30 years? That’s the amount of time that has passed since I last looked at Cosmopolitan Magazine.
Its current cover features Miley Cyrus decked out in a bejeweled flesh-colored outfit with the following headline: “It’s Party Time: Eat, Drink and Twerk Your A** Off.” Another headline expressed an exciting holiday wish: “Sex Up your Holiday: 38 Naughty…”
You get the idea.
“Cosmos” is the ancient Greek word for the world. “Cosmopolitan” is the modern English world for worldly. Indeed, worldliness is nothing new. And yes, I was well aware that bad taste sells magazines. Still, those of you rolling your eyes at my naiveté’ may need a renewed sense of how much has changed in 30 years. I remember when Cosmopolitan Magazine featured beauty tips, home décor and a little harmless idolatry offered up to celebrities.
Maybe I was more naïve back when I took our culture’s idolatry so lightly. Maybe I am more naïve today in terms of how God works in the midst of evil to do His good. Maybe God is working behind our current cultural rot to help us distinguish the things of God from the things of “Caesar” more clearly. Maybe God is using shock and awe to awaken His followers from the moral hibernation that inhabits Western Christianity.
Instead of ranting against cultural rot (as if it was something new), I must confess to a struggle over knowing what to do with it. It’s not easy to think straight when it comes to culture. I cannot embrace it or ignore it. I sometimes hate it and sometimes love it. I need some Scriptural insight to help me think straight.
Oops, the Bible also seems to convey mixed feelings about the world. A love / hate relationship between God and the world can be seen in the New Testament.
First, the love:
- “For God so loved the cosmos, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
- Jesus calls us to be the light of the cosmos (Matthew 5:14).
- Jesus was sent to be the savior of the cosmos (1 John 4:14)
- The apostle Paul spoke of the gospel growing and bearing fruit all over the cosmos (Colossians 1:6).
Next, the hate (so to speak):
- Cosmos is what Satan offered to Jesus during his temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:8). Jesus knew that the cosmos hated him and would also hate His followers (John 15:18). He offered a peace that the cosmos cannot give (John 14:26). He told Pilate that His kingdom was not of this cosmos. (John 18:36).
- Paul equated the forces of the cosmos with the forces of darkness (Ephesians 6:12). He knew that the god of this cosmos blinds unbelievers (2 Corinthians 4:4) and that the real God considers the wisdom of this cosmos as foolishness (1 Corinthians 3:19). Paul advised against holding cosmos-based desires (Titus 2:12) and reminded us that the things of this cosmos are passing away (1 Corinthians 7:31).
- The apostle Peter warned against the defilements of the cosmos (2 Peter 2:20).
- The apostle James defined true religion as remaining unstained by the cosmos (James 1:27). He warned that friendship with the cosmos is hostility toward God (4:4).
- The apostle John cautioned against loving the cosmos and its’ things (1 John 2:15). After all, the cosmos lies in the power of the evil one (5:19).
In context, many of the passages above do not actually convey confusion about our relationship with the world. Perhaps I bring my own confusion to the table. Still, it is easy for sincere Bible readers to wonder whether we are supposed to love the world or not. The answer is both yes and no.
Here’s what I wish Miley Cyrus knew: As dangerous and corrupt as the cosmos is, God sent His beloved Son to save it! We can never understand the extent of God’s gracious love until we see how evil the cosmos is—the cosmos that Jesus came to save.