Being Too Much with the World


wordsworth book image

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,

Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:

Little we see in Nature that is ours;

We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon! ”

These words penned in the nineteenth century also reflect our world today. William Wordsworth, England’s Poet Laureate in the mid 1850’s, saw a major decline in morality as a result of the Industrial Revolution and the birth of technology. Wordsworth’s successor, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, responded to these same times with, “O earth, what changes thou hast seen!”

Both these writers believed technology was making such drastic changes that the morality of the world could not keep pace.

The same situation presents itself to us today. Technology is changing our world so rapidly that we can’t keep up. Because of the “smartness” of our technology, how much of our days do we spend with worldly things? How often do we “lay waste our powers”?

We get a new phone that we spend a pretty penny to buy because a new phone has the latest bells and whistles. However, “we have given our hearts away” to purchase this new technology because we are trying to keep up with the latest changes and because we have become enslaved to them.

In James 4:4 the brother of Christ says, “You adulterous people. Don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.”

These are strong words, James! However, as my students would say, these words are “spot on” with their message to us, the current generation.

How much time do we “waste” in a day looking at social media sites and checking our phones for potential messages or missed calls?

I consider my cellphone to be a paradox of blessings. I love the security of having it with me wherever I go, but I hate the danger it poses to everyone when some people use their phones while driving. I love the immediacy of having knowledge at my fingertips, but I hate the lack of reliability of some of that knowledge. I love the convenience of talking and Skyping with friends and family even though they are far away, but I hate the constant interruptions of text messages demanding my time and attention.

How can something “sordid” or vile be a “boon” or a benefit? Perhaps you hold it in your hand now. You decide.

In church this past Sunday, we sang one of my favorite hymns, “I Surrender All” by Judson W. VanDeVenter. The second verse reiterates James’ advice in chapter 4, verse 4 of his book. “All to Jesus, I Surrender, Humbly at His feet I bow. Worldly pleasures all forsaken, Take me, Jesus, take me now.”

When I had to memorize Wordsworth’s poem in my high school English class, I didn’t think much about its meaning. I believed the poem was trying to say we shouldn’t spend money we don’t have, and I liked the way “a sordid boon” rolled off the tongue and sounded evil and wretched. Otherwise, I didn’t dwell on the poem except to commit the words to memory. Now that I am much older and somewhat wiser, I see the words in a different light.

To quote my favorite author again, “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers.” In my wisdom, I want a friendship with God, not with the world.

1 John 2: 15-16, Colossians 3:2







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