Today I continue following the daily readings of the Reformed Churches along with a headline from world news
Kenyatta, accused of crimes against humanity, installed as Kenya’s President
1st Letter of John chapter 2
As I write I visualise you, my children
12-14 I write this letter to you all, as my dear children, because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake. I write to you who are now fathers, because you have known him who has always existed. And to you vigorous young men I am writing because you have been strong in defeating the evil one. Yes, I have written these lines to you all, dear children, because you know the Father; to you fathers because of your experience of the one who has always existed, and to you young men because you have all the vigour of youth, because you have a hold on God’s truth and because you have defeated the evil one.
See “the world” for what it is
15-17 Never give your hearts to this world or to any of the things in it. A man cannot love the Father and love the world at the same time. For the whole world-system, based as it is on men’s primitive desires, their greedy ambitions and the glamour of all that they think splendid, is not derived from the Father at all, but from the world itself. The world and all its passionate desires will one day disappear. But the man who is following God’s will is part of the permanent and cannot die.
The writer wants to emphasise that the Christian community should be like a family with the virtues of age and youth united in the spiritual battle against evil. He therefore addresses both elders and young men. The modern reader will ask, “where are the grannies and the young women?” To this there is no answer other than noting that full equality in Christ has not yet arrived in the writer’s community or in his thinking.
It’s easy to brush aside this observation as anachronistic -nobody was doing sexual equality in the first century- but there’s evidence that Jesus accepted women as disciples; and Paul declared that there is “neither Jew nor Greek, bond or free, male or female for all are one in Christ.” In all probability the more radical communities of the early church were ultimately absorbed in a Catholic settlement enshrining a male domination which has continued to the present day. Of course women were important in all Christian communities but in much of the New Testament they remain silent partners. What was the mother doing in the story of the so-called prodigal son? Where were the women at the last supper?
When the writer tells his readers not to give their hearts to the “world” he is ignoring his own “worldliness” in accepting a patriarchal view of the family. For him the “world” (for which Christ died) is a system based on human greed and arrogance. We should be careful of such absolute opposition of God and the world. Is God not the creator of the world? Does the gospel of John not say that God loved the world so much that he gave his son to rescue it? One answer is to say that God made the world but humanity has remade it so completely that little if any of God’s work remains. Sometimes when I read the daily news I’m inclined to agree. But then I watch the crows courting on the neighbour’s roof or his older boy teaching his young brother how to ride a bike, and I’m reminded that any sensible theology must account for the good in the world as well as the evil.
I don’t want to detract from the writer’s shrewd and pessimistic analysis of human evils (like a nation electing a murderous criminal as its President) ; but I’d want to insist that there is nevertheless much goodness in the world and often much evil in the Christian community. Perhaps we can take our cue from John 3:16 and say that we must try to love the world as God loves it, redemptively; recognising that we are in the world and the world in us, although we hope to align our wills with God’s and become “part of the permanent.”
Some days, as readers will have noticed, I have to argue with scripture, in the hope that this is what the Holy Spirit wants me to do.