Birgitta of Sweden: The World’s Ugliness

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What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Mark 8:36

“The ugliness and beauty of this world are like bitterness and sweetness. The ugliness of the world—which is its contempt and its adversity—is a profitable sort of bitterness that heals the just. The world’s beauty is its prosperity, and this is a flattering sort of sweetness, but false and seductive… Therefore, in order to escape the ugliness of hell, and to acquire the sweetness of heaven, it is necessary to go after the world’s ugliness rather than its beauty. For even though all things were well created and are all very good, nevertheless one must beware especially of those things which can furnish an occasion for the loss of the souls of those who use gifts irrationally.”

Birgitta of Sweden (c. 1303-1373) in Fifth Book of Questions, Seventh Interrogation 7-10 in Birgitta of Sweden: Life and Selected Revelations (Mahwah: Paulist, 1990) 110.

In a recent conversation with Patrick Johnson of Generous Church, we were talking about how most American’s value comfort over commitment to Christ. That’s what Birgitta was talking about some seven centuries earlier.

People pursue beauty and things and all the world offers over the hard and challenging path of obedience to Jesus. As we prepare for a new year, what will you chase after? With Birgitta, I say aim at the world’s ugliness.

Do this and you will have no regrets for eternity. But those who irrationally aim for all that the world offers will end up empty now and later. It might taste sweet at first but it won’t be lasting. Beware. Be sure to get this right.

Generosity flows not from prosperity but proper perspective. Remember, Jesus celebrated the giving of the widow with two cents. The way of Jesus is to move toward brokenness to find healing. That’s what I am learning.