One song that has become an all time classic is ‘What a wonderful world’, sung by the one and only Louis Armstrong. It’s one of those songs it’s hard not to like. And I have to say this song, whenever I hear it, sends chills down my spine. I think we all know a song or two that do that to us. I just love those lyrics:
The colors of the rainbow, so pretty in the sky
are also on the faces, of people going by
I see friends shaking hands, sayin’, “How do you do?”
They’re really sayin’, “I love you”
I see skies of blue, and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, dark sacred night
And I think to myself
What a wonderful world
I’d call this song a modern psalm, indirectly praising the creator of it all. God is behind this world which is so wonderful, with all its different people and wonders. And how could God not so love this world, a world where there is beauty and harmony and people have a sense of awe and wonder?
But then, there might be those who think of ‘What a wonderful world’ as some naive and unreal view of the world. There is a whole music culture out there today, which points out the not so wonderful aspects of the world – a culture, which often is angry, and provides us with post-modern protest songs: rap culture. And the music and lyrics of this culture are a far way off from Louis Armstrong.
Is this world really so wonderful? A world where dictators don’t give a hoot about the lives or welfare of their people. A world where religious fanaticism is rampant. A world where young people, who supposedly have everything going for them, kill themselves, as happened again this past week in Palo Alto. And this was the third suicide of a high school kid in Palo Alto this year. A world where even a city like San Francisco turns more and more into a playground for the rich, and the poor and even middle class folks are increasingly forced out. A world in which our daily news are overflowing with reports of corruption, injustice, violence, and murder, and world in which the 10 commandments are broken blatantly each and every day. And I think to myself: is it really such a wonderful world?
The tension we have in this world and with this world is that we can see God’s good creation: the beauty of nature, the gift of brothers and sisters who walk with us and lend us a helping hand, in short, a world which God created as paradise, and a world where we get glimpses of that paradise. But then we can also see how God’s good intentions have been distorted. Human history, according to the very first chapters of the Bible, starts with greed, the longing to have more and to be like God – that’s the essence of taking the forbidden fruit – and soon after the expulsion from paradise, the first murder happens. What we call sin soon found entrance into this wonderful world – and turned it into a world tainted and corrupted by human neglect, abuse, and indifference.
Now it seems that John, the Evangelist, shares a very pessimistic view of the world. In his gospel, we find quite a few passages in which he refers to “the world” not as the wonderful world God created, but as a corrupted place, a place inhabited by people who are estranged from God and thus misled, misguided onto the paths of destruction and death. If you want a quick reference, just go to the first chapter of John, the so-called Epilogue of John: the light was sent into the world, but the world did not recognize it, which is, the world did not recognize Jesus. That’s why the world killed him. On the other hand, it is this same world which God loves with desperation, sin and evil and corruption and all. Today’s gospel includes the maybe most famous words of the New Testament, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life”. It is easy to love what is good. It is much harder to love what is flawed, or that which disappoints, isn’t it? But God so loved the wonderful and sinful world, that God sacrificed the Son. And so we may be in awe of God’s wonderful world, that we can see here and there, but at least as awesome is the wondrous love of God. What wondrous love is this, o my soul, o my soul? What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul?
These lines from the old hymn Wondrous Love, which we will sing in a few moments, remind us that the world is not just some abstract entity, something that is separate from us, something that we could point fingers at and complain about, no, we are all members of this world, we are making up this world, each and every one of us, and we bear responsibility for this world; we are all wonderful, wonderfully made, as it says in the psalms, but then at the same time estranged from God and God’s will, imperfect, with many selfish desires, flawed, often indifferent to all that destroys God’s work and rebels against God’s will. God’s wondrous love is for the world, God’s wondrous love is for my soul. We all depend on looking at Jesus Christ, lifted up on the cross, to be reminded of God’s wondrous love and God’s sacrifice, to be restored to God, to be healed, to allow God to transform us into human beings as God intended us to be: in peace with God, with one another, and with all of God’s creation.
And this leads to a greater vision for the world: what can we do to help make this world into the wonderful world people from Isaiah to John of the Book of Revelation to Louis Armstrong and Martin Luther King Jr. have dreamed about? What can we do in helping God make the peaceable kingdom, paradise restored, a reality? How do we bridge this tension between the world as is, and the world as it could be and should be? Don’t underestimate the power – and the responsibility – you have to bring God’s love to those places where it is badly needed, and your power to change the world, little by little.
God’s wondrous love and the death of God’s son on the cross would be a waste if this love didn’t transform us, and the world, somehow. After all, for God so loved that world that he gave his only son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
Jesus didn’t come into this world in order to suffer and die for us and to give us a blank check, well, I did this for you, just go on withholding your love, go on destroying the world I created and the relationships entrusted to you, go on being indifferent to injustice and violence as long as it doesn’t affect you, no – Jesus talks about the saving of the world.
And, as we all know, the world is anything but saved yet. Jesus Christ, indeed, started the process – but we, as the body of Christ today, are called to continue this work of saving, with the help and by the grace of God. And, hopefully, we live with such integrity, that others will see our good works that God demands from us, as we are reborn in Christ – hopefully, others will get a glimpse of God’s wonderful world, as it is already realized here and there – and understand about the amazing and wonderful world yet to come.
This post is also available in: German