A time for everything and all things must pass
In 1970 George Harrison released “All Things Must Pass,” which was a three-record set, but also the title of one of the songs in that collection. He had been languishing under the domination of Lennon and McCartney but had been encouraged through collaborations with Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and The Band, Delaney & Bonnie, and Billy Preston among others. His magnum opus came out just seven months after the Beatles had passed, and George Harrison died on November 29, 2001 at the age of 58.
My youngest brother passed while I was in my doctoral programme. My parents have both passed. All things must pass.
Two months and 18 days before George Harrison passed the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were destroyed. I remember going on a cruise while at a professional conference in Manhattan one year and looking back at those towers as the sun set. It was magnificent. Whenever I see them in some dated movie, it reminds me of what happened to them, and I feel sad, because they don’t exist anymore and a lot of people passed when they fell.
While I was off the Island recently at a research conference in Cape Cod people set off bombs at the Boston Marathon, and four people were killed in the mayhem associated with that act of terrorism. The Boston Marathon did not pass; in fact, people will still hold such events, but the sense of safety people associated with them did.
I grew up in a dysfunctional, alcoholic home, and there have been several times in my life in which I prayed to God to take me out of this world, asking that I could die and pass out of this existence. The answer to those prayers was, “Not yet.” But it will come. One day I will pass as well. All things, all persons, must pass.
The Apostle John, in his first epistle, noted, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away …”
Does this mean that when we go to the beach and we look at the beauty in nature that that is somehow not good, that that is somehow not from the Father? God made it. How could it not be from the Father? What is in the world that points to God because it was created by God and is very much from the Father, and what is it about the world that John was referring to? Paul said that the things created by God point to God and glorify Him, but both James and John said that friendship with the world is enmity with God. Is this a contradiction? And what about that part of the Bible where it says that God so loved the world that He gave His one-of-a-kind Son to save it; Jesus said he did not come into the world to condemn the world but to save it. Is this still more contradiction?
James and John were referring to a way of doing things in the world that is characterised by hunger, greed, and pride. People see, and people want. The desire to possess and to use for one’s own gratification can be bottomless. The desire to get ahead of the next person, to be first, to be better-than, can drive people to abandon all else. The desire to accumulate never ends.
The “world” understood as this system, this way of conducting one’s life — what some would call one’s worldview — is not limited to the way non-religious people conduct themselves. When people in the church operate according to the principles of this world system, they are actually at enmity with God. That is what James and John were warning the early Christians about. They were not writing to non-Christians.
This also does not refer to simply living and being in the world that God has made and being part of the world’s people for whom Christ died. It is a truism, although rather trite, to realise that people who know God through faith in Jesus are IN the world but not OF the world. People can be completely embedded in the structures of the world without living according to the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life. Conversely, church leaders, who are supposed to live as examples to others, can be driven by the desire for success, operating programmes designed to achieve it, and disappointed or angry when the people they are supposed to be serving do not get in step with their plans so as to help them achieve their goals. Even a very spiritual sounding programme can become a weapon of destruction in the hands of a church leader who is at enmity with God.
Christian freedom is based on grace and the realisation that all things have become lawful (even though not all things are helpful). I am in the world. I have tried to pray my way out of it several times, but my passing has not come yet. So, I’m here. I am totally forgiven and free to be totally IN this world, to appreciate the beauty here that God has provided — both in nature and in people, but God help me, I don’t want to run my life in the lust of the flesh and the eyes (being driven by insatiable thirst coming up from inside and being blown away by every attractive sight to crosses my radar) or by the boastful pride of life (trying to be better than everyone else, get people to pay attention to me, amass power and status so as to become SOMEBODY). I already am somebody. By God’s grace and the work of Jesus Christ I am a child of God, and I’m in the process of passing out of this world on my way home. It’s a matter of perspective and the realisation that “ … there is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven — a time to give birth and a time to die …”
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