Gallery of the World–1 John 2:15-16

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world. –1 John 2:15-16

Tonight was the eleventh annual Johnson County Community College Night at the Nelson, a big gathering at Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.  With a score of professors stationed around the museum presenting twenty-minute lectures on selected works, groups of students and others mill about gawking and listening to the flow of information.

As much as I enjoy visual art, I sometimes wonder at the utter obsession that many people pour into the media. Millions of dollars are invested in art in even a relatively art-poor city such as Kansas City. Just this year, my own school opened the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, which sports perhaps the largest art collection of any two-year school in America. Focused entirely on very recent work, the JCCC collection has none of the “Madonna and Child” or “Martyrdom of St. Sebastien” paintings one finds familiar in older collections. Contemporary art, while sometimes political in nature, is often motivated by the ars gratia artis or “art for the sake of art” mentality. It is secular, literally worldly from the Latin word saecula or “world.”

So just what does John warn us away from when he says that we are not to love the world or anything in it. Should I not love Wildwood Lake or my bride? Should I turn my back on Fun House Pizza and Mozart? It seems that this would spread the net a bit too widely, for John illustrates the things of this world with cravings, lusts, and boastings. Surely that does not include Wildwood or Penny. I would also argue that John cannot be condemning all the arts of man, the artifices that we employ in literature, music, visual arts, and other creative outlets. After all, John has just used an artistic motif in the poetry of the  preceding several verses.

What, then, are the things of the world? Clearly, I think, they are the temporary, the transitory things. They include Fun House Pizza, which I may, I believe, enjoy, but I cannot love in the same way that I should the permanent and important things of the world. The things of the world would include art, which I need not utterly reject but which I cannot put on a level with the Word of God. Isaiah 40:8 reminds us that the flower fades but the Word of God endures forever. It does not suggest that the flower is somehow less beautiful because of its temporary nature, but it warns us against investing ourselves in the flower.

How many of us can claim not to spend time loving the things of the world. I will confess too much grief last Monday when I thought the Kansas Jayhawks were about to lose their championship game. I probably took a bit too much enjoyment when Mario Chalmers sunk the game-saving three-pointer with 2.1 seconds left. The fact that I remember these details without looking them up suggests that I love that aspect of the world.

Each of us has an art gallery, a collection of icons depicting the world, that we love a bit too much. This is what John warns us against. It provides an unending opportunity for self-purification.