Why do we try and escape the world instead of sanctify it back to God?
Every new year, I feel a sense of hope and anxiety over what may come. I’m typically an optimist and that definitely carries over into my faith, but I’ve known many people in my life who only see the world as getting worse and worse. I can sympathize with that view to a degree, because of all the wars and violence that we hear about everyday, but compared to other times in history, we’re in a time of great peace and prosperity. Some, think it’s as worse as it could get already based on the moral corruption of society and they hope for the Lord to sweep down and take them away from this “sinful, wretched world” which they’ve been forced to live in. Many Christians throughout history tried to escape the corruption of the world by becoming monks and living a life outside of what civilization calls “normal”. But how do Christians even deal with the world in their everyday life? Do we try and change the world or try and let God change us? Maybe we can do both.
Trying to get rid of secular elements in your life will only end in legalism and/or frustration. Is it bad to rid ourselves of sin? No. But you will always be surrounded by temptation. Even monks who lived in isolation for years were tempted. You can’t escape it.
Secondly, to Christians, there is no division between what is secular and what is Christian. God infills all things (Eph. 1:10, Col. 1:17, Col. 1:20, 1 Timothy 6:13). Our job is to recognize the spiritual in all things. We redeem the world by our every step, our every word and our very lives. That is our job. Just as Christ in His incarnation took what was marred and corrupted and healed it. The flesh has been sanctified by God Himself taking human form.
Fr. Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World has this to say about sin and the material world:
In our perspective, however, the “original” sin is not primarily that man has “disobeyed” God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for Him and for Him alone, ceased to see his whole life depending on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God. The sin was not that man neglected his religious duties. The sin was that he thought of God in terms of religion, i.e., opposing Him to life. The only real fall of man is his non-eucharistic life in a noneucharistic world. The fall is not that he preferred world to God, distorted the balance between spiritual and material, but that he made the world “material”, whereas he was to have transformed it into “life in God”, filled with meaning and spirit.
So, maybe you should ask yourself “How can I take this seemingly secular thing and sanctify it to God?” This is what priests have been doing for thousands of years and you, my friend, are a priest. Don’t separate yourself from the world but be in it and through that make it in Christ. Don’t be of it or try to make a poor carbon copy of it. But surround it and reveal Christ where no one can see Him.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31:
Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.
This doesn’t mean that we smoke a joint or get drunk unto the Lord, obviously. What it does mean is that we may go into places where sin is happening and with God, shine light into other people’s lives. Jesus ate and drank around sinners. He ate at the same table they did. He broke bread with them and by His very nature, He redeemed the table, the chairs, the floor, the bread and even the wine. He wasn’t tainted by sin. Tables, chairs and bread aren’t inherently evil, but what He did do was sanctify them. For more scriptural examples, when John baptized Him, it’s said He blessed the waters of the whole world. Or, when He took the bread and wine, it’s said He sanctified these elements for all time.
Fr. Stephen Freeman talks about the way we have separated what is “secular” and what is “sacred” as a “two-storey universe” and proposes that Orthodox Christianity is actually a “one-storey universe” view. Here’s a quote:
Living a one storey life can be described as simply living here and now. It is being present to God Who is present to us. It is recognizing the true nature of the created world as the arena of both our struggle and our serenity. Our argument with those who do not believe should not be about whether or not their is a second storey to our universe, but about the true nature of the universe in which we live. Whenever Christians allow the gospel to be shoved upstairs, we have allowed ourselves to be disregarded and the gospel to be marginalized. God did not become flesh and dwell among us in order to establish the truth of a second storey universe: He came to redeem the one we live in. Those who cannot recognize hell among us will also be blind to paradise as well. Christ reveals both. Our daily struggle is to live in the latter and to proclaim the gospel to those who live in the former, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life. (Source)
So the question now is, what are we doing to reveal Paradise instead of run away from it?