Entire books could be written on what the Bible simply calls “the world”. This term, which dribbles from Christian tongues so readily, has a far deeper meaning than merely functioning as a label which can be stamped upon a list of evils. Depending on who you talk to, it seems nearly every Christian has their own personal collection of “worldly” evils, from tattoos to television.
But what the apostles mean when they speak of the world is something far more sinister. They speak of a system that has been established in opposition to God. The world consists of the political, social and economic structures within which we live. It is this system that allows some people to attain “power” over others, despite being no smarter, stronger, or more worthy than the men which they govern. It is the worldly system that allows, for example, the rotund dictator of North Korea to destroy other people’s lives in relative immunity from justice.
Neither is the world limited only to malevolent political systems. The idol of “democracy” is just as much part of the world as anything else, despite the efforts of some people to argue otherwise; usually when their politics have bled into their theology until it is impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.
The world consists of attitudes, processes, behaviours, ambitions, habits of thinking, reasoning, and desires that are founded on unbelief and a lack of reverence for God. When a politician expounds some new theory of marriage, he or she is functioning as if God did not exist, and spreading ideas that run counter to God. When a person spends their money on pornography, the worldly system is granting them gratification for their evil desires, and they in turn reciprocate by loving and approving of that system in one aspect or another. That is how the world works. It provides the veins through which sin can flow.
When God placed man on the earth there were no cities, no governments, no technologies, nothing at all, save man and the creation. After mankind’s expulsion from Eden, human beings immediately went to work creating all of these things which, had righteousness been the rule of the day, could have been godly. But unbelief and sin was at work from the beginning. Cain, is the archetype. He goes out from the presence of the Lord and builds himself a city. And ever since, mankind in his hopelessly sinful state, has created “the world”, always and ever founded on unbelief.
The world is characterised in the Bible as a living, potent, toxic system. There is real power in unbelief. St. Paul even refers to the “mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess 2:7). St. John tells us that the “whole world is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). Holding sway over this vast web of human interactions is Satan himself, who Christ tells us is the father of lies. When he lies, he speaks his native language (John 8:44).
It is Satan’s supreme purpose to create an “anti-creation” in the form of “the world”. This anti-creation will run counter to God’s revealed will at every point, for it will be sin-soaked, nature-twisting, and perverted. It is Satan’s desire that this anti-creation will eventually become a hell on earth due to the prevalence of sin. As this happens, Satan intends to gloat as he watches human beings show preference for the earthen hell rather than the good creation of God’s righteous order.
The world is already full of Satan’s treasonous philosophy. Every social and moral revolution originates from Satan, who injects it into the worldly system and works tirelessly to have these ideas spread. The beliefs, values and ideas Satan spreads throughout the worldly system are always inimical to human flourishing. Sadly, humankind will always accept his ideas in their own pride and wickedness.
All of this explains why St. Paul can say that men will go from bad to worse as time continues. It is why we have just emerged from the bloodiest century in human history, where mankind discovered industrial means to murder people and developed weapons sufficient nearly to pulverise the life out of the planet. It further explains why St. John can say that the world is passing away; and why Christ says that the world loves darkness rather than light, for its deeds are evil.