Breakfast Club: When “betraying” the world is actually loving the world

One of the reasons people reject Christianity is that they view it as fostering an “anti-social” spirit, an attitude that is judgmental and critical. After all, they reason, doesn’t the Bible call Christians to “separate” from the world and “not to love the world or anything in the world?” And didn’t Jesus himself say to his followers that no one could be his disciple unless they first “hate their father and their mother?” Don’t these teachings foster the anti-social, separatist spirit that so many Christians and churches seem to reflect? Our answer is this: the only way to truly love the world is to first betray the world. Though seemingly paradoxical, are there any examples where betraying the world did, in fact, result in truly loving the world? I think the historical and biblical account of Moses’ life is an example of this very dynamic and truth.

Betraying the world

First, when Moses grew up he “refused to be known as the son of Pharoah’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.” Choosing to identify himself with the slave-nation of Israel meant Moses had to betray his status and identity as the adopted son of Pharoah’s daughter, including all the security, pleasures, and power he would retain in that position.

Second, Moses “regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt.” Moses valued suffering with Christ and, in so doing, de-valued or “betrayed” the treasures of Egypt. He chose disgrace and suffering, in light of his faith in a future reward, over the intellectual, social, and physical treasures of Egypt.

Third, Moses “left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger.” Moses’ faith led him even to leave his home and this also meant a betrayal of the king of Egypt. Moses’ faith meant that he forsook his prestigious and powerful position in the Egyptian hierarchy, all the wealth and comfort of that position, and put himself in a position of alienation over against Egypt and her mighty ruler.

Finally, Moses “kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.” Moses’ faith and obedience to God meant that he accepted God’s terrible verdict over both Israel and Egypt: “Because of sin, your firstborn must die.” In accepting God’s view of sin and warning of impending judgment, he betrayed the general human perspective regarding the human condition: that we are not that bad, that we are not sinners under the wrath of a holy God, and that if we seek to live a good life and do our best, God will accept us.

What is the conclusion? A betrayal is necessary. This world is not neutral; there is no middle ground. Either we place faith in God and betray the pleasures, status, identity, values, and perspectives of this world or we adopt the pleasures, status, identity, values, and perspectives of our world.

How betraying the world is truly loving the world

In what way is betraying the world actually the best way of loving the world? If Moses had chosen to adopt the status and identity he had in Egypt, perhaps even argued how it was better for the slave nation of Israel to have him as an advocate, then he would have had a comfortable and even successful life. Undoubtedly he would have been able to use his influence to help the slaves of Israel. But, at the end of the day, he would have still been in Egypt. He would not have been used by God to be the great Champion and Deliverer of Israel from their bondage in slavery.

Moses’ name would have been forgotten. But, more significantly, the biblical story of Exodus, the biblical ethos of freeing slaves that has contributed to the universal judgment against slavery in every form, would not have occurred. Thus, Moses’ betrayal of the world was, in itself, a great act of truly loving the world.

So what about us? I believe it is the very same for us. St. Augustine defined true virtue as ordo amoris, the right ordering of our loves. Therefore, putting God first, loving God over family, nation, spouse, children, and any other thing in this world, is the foundation of true virtue. Viewed negatively, putting any other thing above God, even good things, such as nation, or family, or status, or comfort, is the very core of sin; it is idolatry.

So, for example, you can only love your spouse with the kind of unconditional, forgiving, gracious, truth-telling love that is needed when he or she is not the ultimate Reality, the ultimate Beauty or Love, of your life. Another example, if your kids are your ultimate Joy or Treasure, then you will crush them with your love because they cannot live up to that demand. But if you love God first, or in the language I’m using, if you “betray” your children by choosing God as your chief and ultimate Love, then you will be able to love your children with the secure-and-sensitive, tough-and-gentle, pursuing-and-waiting, kind of love that a child needs. In fact, in your betrayal, you will have loved them truly.