Josh Irby

Live from Sarajevo

What do you see when you look at the world?

For the past two months I have played mailman for the Rest of the World. I held a writing contest where bloggers could respond. Almost 50 did so.

As I read their letters, I realized we don’t all view the world the same way. Some of us see the world as a haunted house full of pitfalls and distractions. Some see the world as a wonderland of potential and possibility. Some see the world as a funeral home filled with sadness and pain.

How do you see the world?


How you see the world determines how you interact with the world. If you see the world as a sinking ship, you put all your energy into escaping with your life. If you see the world as a garden, you roll up your sleeves and start pulling weeds and planting seeds.

How you see the world is important.

Here’s where I am torn. When I look at the world, I see more than one thing. Let me explain.

I see a beautiful world

Wherever I travel, I am confronted with the beauty of the world.

I’ve enjoyed green tea at a riverside teahouse in China and walked on the Great Wall.
I’ve spent the day on a mountain with a goat herder in Morocco and tasted fresh orange juice from the market in Marrakesh.
I’ve ascended the hills of Ouro Preto and eaten myself breathless at a steakhouse in Brazil.
I’ve spent a week on an island in the Adriatic reveling in the olive oil and wine grown on the rocky shores of Dalmatia.

The world is a stunningly beautiful place. Wherever I go, beauty awaits me.

The unique color of a spring flower.
The jutting crag on a mountainside.
The tumbling waters of a river.
The diversity of God’s creation

Add to that the diversity of man’s creativity. Buildings rising tall, or spreading wide, or built into a mountainside, or intricately carved, or painstakingly painted, or cleverly designed.

The world is a beautiful place. As are the people who inhabit it.


I see a beautiful world.

I see a horrible world

During the last century, we have perfected the “art” of killing our neighbors. With one button we can destroy a city of millions. Every day we wake up to war, hatred, and murder.

Technology, which promises a better world, helps us more efficiently destroy each other.

Even though we are wealthier than ever before, nearly 1 billion people in the world are hungry. Every day, children die from curable diseases.

Those with wealth don’t seem any happier than those without. Possessions possess us, divide us, control us. The world is not getting any happier.

And yet, the world is projecting a clear message every day through the media: If you want to be happy, you just need . . .
more wealth (“We have a program for that”),
more beauty (“We have a surgery for that”),
more success (“We have five steps for that”).

If you are not wealthy, or beautiful, or successful you are not good enough.

The world is like that teenage punk you want your daughter to avoid. It’s bad news. I don’t want my children listening to the world’s message.

I see a horrible world.

I see a world in process

Now let’s see if I can bring together my two schizophrenic perspectives of the world. I believe both are true.

The world is disfigured beauty. While every part of the world is marred by brokenness, God’s creative beauty still shines through. Yes there are stories of selfishness, but there are also stories of self-sacrifice. God is not done with the world yet. (tweet that?)

The world is in process. Therefore, we have hope. This is not the end. The ancient ruins will be rebuilt. The devastation of many generations will be repaired. Beauty will take the place of ashes.

The world is not as it once was. But, the world is not as it will be. Creation groans.

Here we stand between two poles. We see the imbedded and potential beauty. We grieve the evident and painful brokenness.

We roll up our sleeves and start pulling weeds. We plant seeds of hope.
We hear the world but don’t listen to it. We love the world but aren’t in love with it.
We work towards what will be without despairing of what is.

And, most of all, we pray.

How do you see the world? I want to hear your perspective.

About Josh

  • I see the world awaiting the days of a new heaven and a new earth. The stage is being set, the actors are in place, the play is nearly ready to begin – the outcome is akin to a reset button being pushed….God is in control. We have much to look forward to!

    • Josh

      Good days ahead!

  • I suppose I see it like you, Josh. The ultimate paradox… Your post reminds me of the U2 song, When You Look At the World

    • Josh

      Nice call.

      When you look at the world
      What is it that you see?
      People find all kinds of things
      That bring them to their knees
      I see an expression
      So clear and so true
      That it changes the atmosphere
      When you walk into the room

      So I try to be like you
      Try to feel it like you do
      But without you it’s no use
      I can’t see what you see
      When I look at the world

      When the night is someone elses
      And you’re trying to get some sleep
      When your thoughts are too expensive
      To ever want to keep
      When there’s all kinds of chaos
      And everyone is walking lame
      You don’t even blink now, do you
      Or even look away

      So I try to be like you
      Try to feel it like you do
      But without you it’s no use
      I can’t see what you see
      When I look at the world

      I can’t wait any longer
      I can’t wait till I’m stronger
      Can’t wait any longer
      To see what you see
      When I look at the world

      I’m in the waiting room
      Can’t see for the smoke
      I think of you and your holy book
      While the rest of us choke

      Tell me, tell me, what do you see?
      Tell me, tell me, what’s wrong with me

  • To me, the world is akin to the first rays of dawn piercing the black canvas of night; a very dark place gently and increasingly lit with stories of courage, love, and redemption.

  • Brilliant post, btw.

    • Josh

      Good insights Christine. And thanks for the encouragement.

  • This is beautifully written Josh. My answer to the Letter to the World challenge might have been construed as negative or hating the world. I don’t hate the world or think of it only as a place filled with sadness and pain. So much of what I have seen and experienced of the world is wonderful beyond the power of words to tell. But The World fails as the arbiter of what is worthy and beautiful and deserving. I treasure the world that God loves, but I realize that the wisdom of The World is foolishness. Does that make sense?

    • Josh

      Kathleen, I liked your open letter response. It really caught my attention. You weren’t the only one to take that approach to the response.

      I agree with your assessment. The world is not the place to go for advice. (Like point 2, the world is a horrible place)
      The rest of the world also includes my wife and children and pastor and mother Theresa, etc.

      The point I wanted to make was: it’s complicated. Thanks for your provocative post that made me think.

  • I really like this look at both sides of the world. I look at the world as the opportunity to make a difference. The great thing is with our writing we can make a difference. Great post, Josh!

    • Josh

      Thanks Anastacia. I think we have a tendency to oversimplify things and, honestly, the world is a complex place.