Posted by: Melissa Bane Sevier | May 9, 2018

War of the worlds

John’s gospel, in particular, talks much about “the world.” κόσμως (cosmos, “the world”) has different meanings. It can be taken to mean:

  1. the created order;
  2. all of humanity;
  3. humanity as fallen.

It can sometimes be a little difficult to determine which meaning is intended by a specific usage. In this week’s gospel lectionary reading, John 17:6-19, the writer uses κόσμως eleven times. Eleven. He’s trying to tell us something. But what?

This text is part of the longest Jesus prayer in the gospels and is part of the farewell discourse—his last meal and conversation with his friends.

I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours… 

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world…

I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one…

They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world…

As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world…

We’re sent into a culture that we can never fully belong to. A realm full of beauty and goodness that is also crowded with evil influences. A home that we are encouraged to love but where we can never feel completely at home.

Our relationship with the world is complicated. As people of faith we jump in with hands and feet to explore the life we’re given, to enjoy love and friendship, to delight in the kindnesses we experience, to revel in the diversity of humanity and nature and how they express the wideness of God’s character.

But we must also be watchful—watchful of our own selves—that we don’t mistake evil for good. We can’t be drawn into things that appear to be good but are the opposite. It sounds easy-ish, but it can be really, really difficult.

In an environment where many religious leaders have confused these two concepts of “world,” we have extra work to do.

When lies are passed off as truth, when sexual misconduct and gun violence garner a shrug, when the ones Jesus loved the most are refused adequate access to healthcare, when those fleeing terror and tyranny are denied refuge, when the environment is sacrificed for greed, and when all these things are defended by religion, then our concepts of κόσμως collide.

The world of our natural order and the world of humanity are created by God, as beautiful expressions of God’s character. But that expression can be corrupted when we are influenced by evil and wrong-headed pressures and theologies. Then that third definition of κόσμως kicks in—our own fallenness.

Let’s fulfill our end of Jesus’ prayerful hopes for us—to enjoy the world and be fully engaged in it because it’s God’s creation, and to be wary that we do not succumb to the temptations of evil that corrupt the beauty of that creation in us, and in the κόσμως.

© Melissa Bane Sevier, 2018


  1. World is mentioned 13 times in JOHN 17: 6-19

  2. Reblogged this on Beginnings.

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