Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the father is not in him.
- 1 John 2:15
As Christians we know that the world is not our home and our call is to love God with all our heart, soul strength and mind. That is easy to say; it is not always so easy to do. The desire for the good things in this life and the wish to avoid pain can easily choke out the love of righteousness, even in those who are saved by faith in Christ. When this happens, as it did to some of the greatest saints in the Bible – think of David in his lust for Bathsheba or Peter’s fear of confessing Christ to a servant girl – our ability to be salt and light to a dying world is significantly impaired.
In the year A. D. 410 Aurelius Augustine had a problem. In fact, the whole Roman world did: a Visigoth name Alaric. Alaric, you see, had become the first man to successfully sack Rome in over 700 years, and for the Romans this was an end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it moment. The pagan Romans, what you might call the conservative coalition of the day, blamed the Christians for the disaster. It was the Christians, they charged, who were responsible for causing Rome to abandon her gods and bring about Rome’s defeat at the hands of the barbarians. Augustine, who at the time was bishop of Hippo in North Africa, heard these charges coming from Romans who had fled Italy to escape the Visigoth armies. Moved to defend Christianity against the pagan’s charges, Augustine set about writing his greatest work, The City of God.
Early on in The city of God Augustine set about to refute one of the charges flung at Christians by the pagans: Why, if your God is so powerful, does he allow Christians to suffer along with everyone else? In part, answered Augustine, it was the Christians’ love of the world and their resulting ineffective witness that helped bring God’s judgment. He wrote,
“We tend culpably to evade our responsibility when we ought to instruct and admonish them, sometimes even with strong reproof and censure, either because the task is irksome, or because we are afraid of giving offense; or it may be that we shrink from incurring their enmity, for fear that they may hinder and harm us in worldly matters, in respect either of what we eagerly seek to attain, or what we weakly dread to lose…Good and bad are chastised together, not because both alike live evil lives, but because both alike, though not in the same degree, love this temporal life.”
When the events of life turn against us, some Christians become angry with God and demand, “why me, Lord?” The present author knows of at least one such individual. The answer just may be that God in his mercy takes from us those things for which we have grown too fond, so that he may give us himself, whom we have held too lightly.