The world is a vampire sent to drain; secret destroyers hold you up to the flames. So says Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins, and it’s not easy to prove him wrong.
Every human being simply shows up on earth. No orientation, no training. We just find ourselves here and have to make sense of it all. At some point, we develop an opinion on the type of place this is. Is it dark and dangerous, or bright and exciting? Do we live in a cesspool or a playground?
I hear the cesspool view voiced from most pulpits—religious or secular. Christians understandably look at the evil and temptations that press and pull from every direction and rightly see these evil influences for what they are. Beware: there is much in our modern culture that would lead us astray. But secular prophets see the darkness of our world as well. Billy Corgan is one voice among many. “Welcome to the cruel world…don’t know how we’ve lasted here so long,” mourns Ben Harper. Rage Against the Machine adds a more aggressively sinister note: “There’ll be no shelter here, the front line is everywhere.”
We could pile on near-infinite examples from the cultural worlds of music, film, literature, visual art, dance, etc. The point is universally understood: this world is a dark and dangerous place. The only people who seem to deny the darkness of this world are kitschy filmmakers and storytellers who delight in showing the fluffy side of life to the exclusion of, well, reality. Sadly, many of the worst offenders in this regard are Christians trying to maintain a positive outlook. Even the darkest people on the planet (think Marilyn Manson or even Charles Manson) aren’t denying that the world is full of darkness, they’re simply embracing it.
So that settles it, right? We live in a cesspool. Tread lightly and keep your eyes on the sky. We’ll be rescued from this mess in due time.
This conclusion would be entirely justified were it not for one key player in the affairs of this world: God. If the world is a cesspool, it’s His cesspool. It’s His earth that the forces of darkness have desecrated, and the Bible assures us that He is not ready to throw it away in disgust.
Nor has God gone missing from the world He made. We see God’s presence in this world just moments after sin entered the picture and wrenched the world from its God-ordained intention. No sooner had Adam and Eve fashioned makeshift garments to hide the effects of their sin than “they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden” (Gen. 3:8). And He has never truly left.
The Bible records humanity’s struggle with sin and the seemingly inevitable spread of darkness into every area of cultural production. But never forget that the Bible tells a joyful story. It’s a story infused with hope at every turn. A story in which the True Creator is always working, sometimes when and where we least expect Him.
He is the God who takes the distorted culture that shaped a crown out of thorns and a cross out of once-living trees and turns those malevolent cultural productions into symbols of hope and triumph. He is the God who turns the chief of sinners into an exemplary grace-proclaiming missionary (1 Tim. 1:15). The God who makes the broken into a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). The God who is ultimately making all things new (Rev. 21:5).
Because of God’s continued involvement in His world, the world is more than a cesspool. Because of God’s ongoing delight in the works of His hands, this world remains a playground. We would do well to play with an appropriate soberness and a continuing dependence on God, but the human culture that fills our world still reflects the God whose grace permeates all of life, try as we might to distance Him from the things we make.
God did not redeem our world by staying as far as possible from the stains that now adorn the fabric of the universe. He entered into the world as-is, showing us that the stain is distinct from the fabric, and in doing so He subtly invites us onto this potentially dangerous playground to find the light and joy and affirm it wherever it may still be found.