The German language has a reputation for requiring more letters and words than the English language for expressing an equivalent meaning. However, there are exceptions for which a single German word conveys a deep, poetic sentiment with great efficiency. “Weltschmerz” is one of those words, so eloquent that it appears in English language dictionaries without modification. This word is a contraction of two words in German, “Welt” and “Schmerz”, which translate to “World” and “Pain” in English, respectively. Taken in a literal sense, “World Pain” does not convey the complete meaning of the word. Weltschmerz describes a personal emotion of feeling weighed down by the demise of the world at large, causing malaise, sadness, depression, or apathy. It describes a sense of personal hopelessness, resulting from internalizing the downward spiral of the world.
Today, there is no shortage of events in the world to inspire a feeling of Weltschmerz. World leaders are a disgrace to their countries, governments, and the people they rule. The prevailing morality in societies around the world is baseless and self-indulgent with no concern for God. Violence and wars escalate more and more, bringing death and pain to those affected. Desperation pierces the lives of the innocent in so many ways – with sickness, job loss, poverty, and pain. When looking around us, it can be difficult to see what’s happening, knowing where it all leads, without feeling the gut-wrenching agony of the world’s demise.
The prophet Jeremiah may have felt the agony of Weltschmerz when he inquired of God why the wicked prosper (compare Jeremiah 12:1-4). In his time, he observed the wicked ways of the people and how they caused the environment around them to become desolate. Unquestionably grieved in seeing God neglected, we get a sense of Jeremiah’s lament for the state of the world. God’s response to Jeremiah’s inquiry explains the corruption He saw from His perspective: “‘Many rulers have destroyed My vineyard, They have trodden My portion underfoot; They have made My pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. They have made it desolate; Desolate, it mourns to Me; The whole land is made desolate, Because no one takes it to heart’” (Jeremiah 12:10-11). In this example, we see the cause of desolation. The people of Judah, to whom Jeremiah prophesied, took God and His blessings for granted. [Of course, Jeremiah also had the responsibility to prophesy to other nations (Jeremiah 1:5) and in prophetic terms, to the entire world in the last days]. They chose to disobey Him, as is also the case today. They took part in the way of destruction. In figurative language, God’s creation mourns this dismal state of affairs.
I’m afraid that our current state of the world is far worse than described by Jeremiah for his day and age. The vast majority in the world have departed from God, blatantly choosing to follow their own ways. The world glorifies sin. It corrupts the Truth. It puts trust in the faultiest of men to fix its problems. Only Jesus Christ will manage to correct the path this world is on when He establishes His righteous government (compare Isaiah 2:2-4; Isaiah 9:6-7).
Fortunately, the world has hope. The dire straits will become straight and smooth when Jesus Christ returns to save the world from mankind. And we, as true Christians, will have the opportunity to work underneath His perfect authority to make it happen. The world will breathe a sigh of relief. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:20-22). Just as the world has hope for relief from its grief, we too can find solace in knowing that the current corruption will cease, giving way to a wonderful restoration.