You have to be in the world in order to be of the world.

Portrait of a boy with the map of the world painted on his face.

By Tim Moody

I saw a decal on the back of an SUV the other day. It read: “Not of this World” and had a Christian cross underneath it. I never have understood this concept. Years ago when I was a minister I used to wrestle with the idea Christians are somehow not supposed to be of this world. What are we supposed to be, aliens? As often happens I think those passages of scripture that mention that phrase are misunderstood. Jesus once said his kingdom was not of this world. But that was clearly a reference to how he dealt with life as opposed to how the Roman Empire handled it.

He came from love; they came from fear. His approach was acceptance; theirs was suspicion. His mission was peace; theirs was domination.

St. Paul used the phrase in one of his letters. He often spoke out of his harsh background of persecuting Christians. I think sometimes Paul pushed too hard. People who have had unhealthy, scarred, abused, intemperate pasts often use their religious beliefs in the extreme. They overcompensate for their previous behavior by trying to keep everything in the present, structured and under control. Paul had those moments.

How do you not be of this world and keep your humanity?

We need so much to feel the pain of our world. We need to be a part of the struggle of life. We need to not be afraid of the messes we make in our attempts to find out who we are and why we are here.

I understand the whole thing about not wanting to sin, or do bad things, or break the rules. That is a part of being a responsible human being and a good follower of Christ. But it’s all relative, really.

One person may drink too much while another may not drink at all, but the drinker may volunteer on Saturdays at the downtown soup kitchen while the non-drinker spends his weekends playing golf. One person may never say curse words while another person might use the “f” word a dozen times a day at the right moment. But the person who uses bad language might hate other races and disregard other religions while the guy who uses salty language might openly embrace all races and be tolerant of all religions.

You have to be in the world in order to be of the world. And being in and of the world is what gives credibility to any notions of faith, or any religious beliefs, or doing good and right and being a decent human being.

Being in the world actually humanizes us, teaches us compassion, and helps us accept our own frailties, our own ugly little moral imperfections, which we all have. Being not of this world makes us unfeeling, aloof, disdainful, and self-righteous.

In Melville’s novel, Pierre, the narrator says of one of the characters, “With the soul of an atheist he wrote down the godliest things; with the feeling of misery and death in him, he created forms of gladness and life.”

We can only be touched where we yield. And that is impossible if we are not of this world.