Can we be “in” the world, but not “of” the world?

I spent some time reflecting on something I used to hear from youth pastors when I was a teenager. Some of them exhorted my friends and I not to be of the world, as the earth and humanity (in general) are fallen due to sin. Where sin and the supposed fallen nature of humanity is a great topic for discussion, it will not be the focus of my post. I thought about being of the world or in the world in a different light today, and thought it would be worth sharing.

Growing up isn’t easy. The older I get, the more responsibilities I have. Most of my responsibilities are imposed by the culture/society in which I live. I work a 9 to 5 job, save for retirement, eat frozen meals, subscribe to magazines, go to school in order to receive a degree… all with the aim of living a comfortable, “successful” life. Kids, vacations, mortgages… you get the picture. As I tend to be a pretty spiritual guy (which can be both good and bad), I sometimes have a hard time with convention. I know that many aspects of convention bring comfort, safety, and a life relatively free of the fundamental perils of trying to live as a relatively small organism in this great big world of ours. At the same time, I see the limitations of society and all of the suffering it brings. I seem to always be “wanting” something, as if it will make me happy. The fact is that the wanting never seems to go away. The pulse of my culture is consumption and dissatisfaction, and I feel like I can’t be a part of it without feeling the sting of discontent.

Depressing, I know. So the question I wish to pose to myself and anyone reading this is… Can I (or anyone else, for that matter) be a functioning member of the North American consumer culture without getting hung up on it all? Can we live in the world without being of the world? Do we have to choose complete separation from society or total emersion in to it? There are many answers to these questions, which are usually from a faith tradition or a philosophical school. But, rather than go in to what I think might be the answer to the paradox, I’m interested to hear what anyone else might have to say. So, any thoughts?

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2 Comments

Filed under Religion & Philosophy

2 responses to “Can we be “in” the world, but not “of” the world?

  1. Marilyn

    There’s a reason why you are always ‘wanting’ even though you try to satisfy what you feel is lacking…. I was there once too. Once you study about your spirit through the Bible (and who else knows your spirit better than God), you will understand why you always feel the way you feel.

  2. Jackson

    Hi Marilyn,

    Thanks for commenting. You answer to the question is a valid one, and it is reminiscent of the idea of there being a “God shaped hole” in every person that can only be filled by the Holy Spirit. For me personally, this answer doesn’t work. For it to work, the ‘feeling of lacking’ something would have to be real, and would be pointing to an actual deficiency within us all. My opinion, if I may share it, is that the ‘feeling of lacking’ is an illusion, and that it is this illusory sense of isolation and separation that causes us to feel that there’s something lacking in the first place.

    Though it seems we disagree, I’m happy that you made the time to comment. Feel free to continue the conversation with whatever thoughts you may have in response.

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