All That Good Stuff
Sometime in the last decade or so I started hearing the phrase “all that good stuff.” I think it happened first when I was ordering dinner at a restaurant. The waitress summarized the menu briefly, ending with “and all that good stuff.” Then I heard a television talk show host use the phrase. Pretty soon, it seemed as if a cultural dam broke and torrents of “all that good stuff” came pouring out. Even my dental hygienist used “and all that good stuff” to describe what she was about to do to my mouth. (For the record, I don’t consider any part of getting my teeth cleaned as “good stuff,” except for the free toothbrush at the end.)
Just to be clear, the phrase “all that good stuff” does not appear in Genesis. Yet, in a way, it could. The writer of Genesis 1 spelled out in detail what God created: heavens, earth, light, seas, etc. A contemporary shorthand of that chapter might read, “God created the heavens, the earth and all that good stuff.”
Historically, Christians have had a tendency to neglect the basic goodness of stuff. We believe that the only thing that really matters is immaterial spirit. Yet if God made physical stuff to be good, even very good, we might do well to rethink our inclination to neglect or denigrate it. After all, at the end of time, we find, not ethereal souls floating around in a non-physical paradise but a new heaven and a new earth filled with all sorts of good stuff, like walls of jasper and a city of pure gold, adorned with jewels (Rev 21:18-19). That’s serious good stuff in my book.
Why does it matter that we acknowledge the created goodness of the stuff of this world? I can think of several reasons. I expect you could add to the list. For one thing, I want to care about what God cares about, to value as good that which God values as good.
I want to admire God’s handiwork, even if it has been tarnished by sin. I want to be a good steward of all that God has entrusted to me, including the stuff of creation. Moreover, if I devalue the stuff of this world, then I tend also to devalue work that deals with physical things.
I might think my work with ideas and words is somehow more important than the work of a carpenter. Of course, since Jesus, as God Incarnate, spent the better part of his life working as a carpenter, it may be wise to rethink the value of stuff.
Holding on to Earth
There once lived a peasant in Crete who deeply loved his life. He enjoyed tilling the soil, feeling the warm sun on his naked back as he worked the fields, and feeling the soil under his feet. He loved the planting, the harvesting, and the very smell of nature. He loved his wife and his family and his friends, and he enjoyed being with them. Eating together, drinking wine, talking, and making love. And he loved especially Crete, his, beautiful island! The earth, the sky, the sea, it was his! This was his home.
One day he sensed that death was near. What he feared was not what lay beyond, for he knew God’s goodness and had lived a good life. No, he feared leaving Crete, his wife, his children, his friends, his home, and his land. Thus, as he prepared to die, he grasped in his right hand a few grains of soil from his beloved Crete and he told his loved ones to bury him with it.
He died, awoke, and found himself at heaven’s gates, the soil still in his hand, and heaven’s gate firmly barred against him. Eventually St Peter emerged through the gates and spoke to him: ‘You’ve lived a good life, and we’ve a place for you inside, but you cannot enter unless you drop that handful of soil. You cannot enter as you are now!’ The man was reluctant to drop the soil and protested: ‘Why? Why must I let go of this soil? Indeed, I cannot! What ever is inside those gates I have no knowledge of. But this soil, I know . . . it’s my life, my work, my wife and kids, it’s what I know and love, it’s Crete! Why should I let it go for something I know nothing about?’
Peter answered: ‘When you get to heaven you will know why. It’s too difficult to explain. I am asking you to trust, trust that God can give you something better than a few grains of soil.’ But the man refused. In the end, silent and seemingly defeated, Peter left him, closing the large gates behind.
Several minutes later, the gates opened a second time and this time, from them, emerged a young child. She did not try to coax the man into letting go of the soil in his hand. She simply took his hand and, as she did, it opened and the soil of Crete spilled to the ground. She then led him through the gates. A shock awaited him as he entered heaven . . . ………….there, before him, lay all of Crete!
This-Sidedness and Other-Sidedness
In his excellent little book, A Testament of Devotion, written almost a hundred years ago, Thomas Kelly describes the tension that all ministries must live in; the focus on this world or the world-to-come. Each are essential for the whole gospel to be preached and lived:
German theology of a century ago emphasized a useful distinction between This-sidedness and Other-sidedness, or Here and Yonder. The church used to be chiefly concerned with Yonder, it was oriented toward the world beyond, and was little concerned with this world and its sorrows and hungers.
Because the sincere workingman, who suffered under economic privations, called out for bread, for wholewheat-flour bread, the church of that day replied, “You’re worldly-minded, you’re crass, you’re materialistic, you’re oriented toward the Here. You ought to seek the heavenly, the eternal, the Yonder.”
But the workingman wasn’t materialistic, he was hungry; and Marxian socialism promised him just the temporal bread he needed, whereas the church had rebuked him for not hungering for the eternal Bread.
All this is now changed. We are in an era of This-sidedness, with a passionate anxiety about economics and political organization. And the church itself has largely gone “this-sided,” and large areas of the Society of Friends (the Quakers) seem to be predominantly concerned with this world, with time, and with the temporal order. And the test of the worthwhileness of any experience of Eternity has become: “Does it change things in time? If so, let us keep it, if not, let us discard it.”
Two Strong Voices
Since I was very young my life has been dominated by two strong voices. The first said, “Make it in the world and be sure you can do it on your own.” And the other voice said, “Whatever you do for the rest of your life, even if it’s not very important, be sure you hold on to the love of Jesus.” My father was a little more inclined to say the first and my mother the second. But the voices were strong.
“Make your mark. Be able to show the world you can do it by yourself and that you are not afraid. Go as far as you want to go and be a man. Be a good older son and brother, and be sure you really do something relevant.” And the other said, “Don’t lose touch with Jesus, who chose a very humble and simple way. Jesus, by his life and death, will be your example for living.
I’ve struggled because one voice seemed to be asking me for upward mobility and the other for downward mobility and I was never sure how to do both at the same time.
What the World Says
If the world is sane, then Jesus is mad as a hatter and the Last Supper is the Mat Tea Party. The world says, mind your own business, and Jesus says, there is no such think as your own business. The world says, Follow the wisest course and be a success, and Jesus says, follow me and be crucified.
The world says, drive carefully- the life you save may be your own- and Jesus says, whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. The world says, Law and order, and Jesus says, Love. The world says, Get, and Jesus says, Give. In terms of the world’s sanity, Jesus is crazy as a coot, and anybody who thinks he can follow him without being a little crazy too is laboring less under the cross than under a delusion. “We are fools for the Christ’s sake,”
Paul says, faith says –the faith that ultimately the foolishness of God is wiser than the wisdom of men, the lunacy of Jesus saner than the grim sanity of the world.
Which “World” Are we Talking About?
The “world” of 1 John 2:15 doesn’t refer to the created order or to the blessings that come from living in a modern society, such as modern conveniences or medical and scientific advances. For God created the world and declared it “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Nor does this verse refer to economic and social structures of society—our family, friends, vocation, field of study, government, or community. All of these are ordained by our heavenly Father. As David says, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Ps. 24:1).
And of course, we’re supposed to love all men—not only our brothers and sisters in Christ but also those who are not Christians—because “God so loved the world” that he gave his Son (John 3:16). In fact, true love for God is demonstrated by a growing passion to tell others about his love…So what is the “world” we are forbidden to love?
The world we’re not to love is the organized system of human civilization that is actively hostile to God and alienated from God. The world God forbids us to love is the fallen world. Humanity at enmity with God. A world of arrogant, self-sufficient people seeking to exist apart from God and living in opposition to God. It’s a world richly deserving of the righteous wrath of a holy God. Dead set against the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is the world we’re forbidden to love.
The World Is Not Right (Despite our Great Desire Otherwise)
The world, in fact, is not as it had been represented to us. Things are not all right as they are, and they are not getting any better. We have been told the lie ever since we can remember: human beings are basically nice and good. Everyone is born equal and innocent and self-sufficient. The world is a pleasant, harmless place. We are born free. If we are in chains now, it is someone’s fault, and we can correct it with just a little more intelligence or effort or time.
How we can keep on believing this after so many centuries of evidence to the contrary is difficult to comprehend, but nothing we do and nothing anyone else does to us seems to disenchant us from the spell of the lie. We keep expecting things to get better somehow. And when they don’t, we whine like spoiled children who don’t get their way. We accumulate resentment that stores up in anger and erupts in violence.
Convinced by the lie that what we are experiencing is unnatural, an exception, we devise ways to escape the influence of what other people do to us by getting away on a vacation as often as we can. When the vacation is over, we get back into the flow of things again, our naiveté renewed that everything is going to work out all right—only to once more be surprised, hurt, bewildered when it doesn’t. The lie (“everything is OK”) covers up and perpetuates the deep wrong, disguises the violence, the war, the rapacity.
The World, a Definition by Eugene Peterson
The world, though, is protean: each generation has the world to deal with in a new form. World is an atmosphere, a mood. It is nearly as hard for a sinner to recognize the world’s temptations as it is for a fish to discover impurities in the water. There is a sense, a feeling, that things aren’t right, that the environment is not whole, but just what it is eludes analysis. We know that the spiritual atmosphere in which we live erodes faith, dissipates hope and corrupts love, but it is hard to put our finger on what is wrong.
The World According to Scripture
For recognizing and resisting the stream of the world’s ways there are two biblical designations for people of faith that are extremely useful: disciple and pilgrim. Disciple (mathētēs) says we are people who spend our lives apprenticed to our master, Jesus Christ. We are in a growing-learning relationship, always. A disciple is a learner, but not in the academic setting of a schoolroom, rather at the work site of a craftsman.
We do not acquire information about God but skills in faith. Pilgrim (parepidēmos) tells us we are people who spend our lives going someplace, going to God, and whose path for getting there is the way, Jesus Christ. We realize that “this world is not my home” and set out for “the Father’s house.” Abraham, who “went out,” is our archetype.
Still Looking for inspiration?
Consider checking out our quotes page on the World. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!