by Greg Leitschuh
Have you ever heard the phrases, 'she wants the best of both worlds' or 'he is a worldly person', and wondered what they really meant? Like many of the phrases used today, we often become insulated from their meaning through over-familiarity.
The term 'world' is used a lot these days as we constantly hear news from around the globe. It is now widely used to describe the secular interests, affairs and opinions of many people rather than simply referring to our physical world. We also hear it mentioned concerning psychological and religious matters. It would appear that it is possible for us to live in more than one world hence the phrase 'he lives in his own little world'! Is there another world different from the one we live in or is this life merely a 'state of mind'?
It would appear that many people talk of the world in such a way that they view it as a dichotomy of the way things are and the way that things were truly meant to be. Most of us have an ideal or higher way that we aspire to -- we believe there is a dignified, harmonious way in which people are to live in this world. We read the news and feel that there is a nobility to which mankind is destined but so obviously seems to lack. On the other hand, we hear or read stories of people that come across to us as being 'worldly' that is living sensual or over extravagant lives and feel that there is a better way. To many, this world is a place where we try to get as much pleasure and satisfaction as possible, oftentimes at the expense of others, and rarely do we come away feeling that we are better off. Why is this so?
Whether we are religious people or have secular beliefs, all of us probably see 'worldliness' as something that is less than the best. But what does it really mean? A standard dictionary tells us that it is 'one who is engrossed in or concerned with the pursuit of temporal advantages such as wealth and pleasure'. On the opposite side, many religious people over the years have shut themselves off from the world in order to escape the pitfalls of these temptations. This other extreme certainly doesn't appeal to many people. Should there be a place in our lives where we can live in this world and find satisfaction whether we have little or a lot and without having to try and escape from it?
An interesting perspective on life and its experiences is given in the book of Ecclesiastes, an Old Testament book of the Bible. The writer (apparently king Solomon, the son of David) has tried many things in the pursuit of happiness and has concluded that all is vain. The Hebrew word used for vain means 'a breath, vapour' and emphasises the emptiness and transitoriness of life. Solomon had more advantages than most people and realised that there was nothing in this world that could bring complete satisfaction. From hard work to food, ambition, wealth and even family, there was nothing that could bring him fulfilment. This sounds very cynical and pessimistic on the surface, but there is a deeper meaning which helps to unlock the key to a joyful life.
Solomon would appear to be one of the most worldly persons of ancient times. As king of Jerusalem and because of his wealth, wisdom and position, he had ample opportunity to sample all of life. He clearly came to the conclusion that all of human existence when lived apart from God is frustrating and unsatisfactory. All of the pleasures and material things of life when sought for their own sake bring nothing but unhappiness and a sense of futility. He sums up at the end of the book by saying that the highest good in life lies in revering and obeying God and enjoying the things that He brings our way. Solomon saw the haphazardness, injustice and the tragedies in life and yet believed that God was somehow in control.
We face the same situations today. This world at times seems irrational because of the way people behave, and we feel that it is out of control. We also know that even the most fulfilling job will eventually become routine. Most of us are trying to control our lives and find joy in our work or in the pursuit of pleasure, and yet, we will admit that it is fleeting. There has to be a place where we can live free from worry and anxiety, accepting our lot in life and not go chasing after rainbows --in a sense, living in another world.
The phrase I earlier referred to -- 'life is a state of mind' -- reflects the way many live. Two people can live in almost identical surroundings yet one is happy and the other sad --this can often be attributed to our attitude towards our outward circumstances. It is possible for anyone to have an attitude of joy and relaxation in even the most difficult situations. Solomon appeared to be a man of faith and knew that his relationship with God was the only thing that could enable him to have this type of attitude towards life. If we can be convinced that there is a God who is in control of this world and has a way for us that is filled with peace and rest, we will be able to endure any hardship and experience the joy we feel we were meant to have. This also is reinforced by Jesus' words in the following verse from the New Testament in the Bible:
John 16:33 "I have said this to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world."
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