Worldviews in Conflict
Hunger, war, natural disasters always attract our attention, because these real things have painful and immediate and visible results. We can relate to them when they are described, pictured, and brought into our lives through TV and newspapers. We recognise with horror that people like us suffer enormously. They are victims of war, natural catastrophes or evil governments. Relief and development work is not only concerned with external situations in which human beings live. Much less visible is the fact that people are also affected by the way they see reality, the way they think about life, their loved ones, nature and right or wrong.
Relief is necessary when erroneous ideas lead to catastrophes. Relief must be brought to people who have no encouragement to think at all or who think wrongly about the basic elements of life and therefore suffer terrible consequences. When a person acts on the basis of his or her worldview the results will show them whether it is a good one or a terrible one. Worldviews are like glasses through which people see their reality. After the first relief efforts, in which material things are given to help them out of their immediate need, people like us require development of their minds. To the old Chinese proverb: Do not give me a fish, but fishing tackle! we would add an additional request: Give me a reason why I should live, by fishing or any other means.
Human beings crave explanation. We analyse what should and should not be done and match or stretch what is to what ought to be. While animals respond by instinct, we learn to question. We transcend the present moment, with its stimuli, dangers and pleasures to wonder how we got there, how we can live well and what we must do to control the future in a measure. We gather information from facts and from ideas, including history, philosophy and geography. We may find better ideas in the experiences of others or through our own imagination.
An additional factor in Jewish and Christian thought is whether reality backs up the pronouncements of Scripture. We seek to know the created world out there, so that we can live. We do not follow a mere story about Christ that motivates us to live like him, rather we have confidence that history is a purposeful continuum. God created a real world. Man is in the image of God in that reality. Christ came, died and was raised in history. We live in that same space/time dimension, which has objective measures and in which whatever we create is affected by our choices.
Our way of developing perspective in painting, our effort to measure precisely, to figure out which causes lead to what effects, etc., is directly related to the affirmation of an objective world in which we live and have our being. We are part of that objectivity, though we perceive it always as finite subjects.
More recently there has since been a shift in the concept of what is real. It is a shift from reality to a vision of reality, from confidence to feeling good about the view held, whether it is true and fitting or not. Where modern man has distanced himself from Christianity he is again more concerned about faith and obedience and feeling good about them, than about whether what he believes and does is true to the real world, the field of activity addressed by God's word. He is more accountable to himself, whether he has been true to his inner-most feelings, than to the living God.
Rather than adding to the story of the human race in the real world, with personal battles of how to lead a virtuous life in the midst of real temptation, each person begins to write his own story and defines for himself what is good, beautiful and profound. While faith used to be the acknowledgment of certain verities, beginning with the acknowledgment that God exists and rewards those who diligently seek him, it has now become mostly a personal matter. Each person makes their own decision, a decision to believe anything or to fill old symbols with new, more personal, meaning. The only requirement seems to have become that I feel good about my testimony. The recent, more subjective emphasis is found in the choice to see religion as a private concern and to disregard the weight of beliefs in shaping the way people live with or under material conditions. A people's religion becomes then a cultural trait and an inheritance without the critical evaluation of what that religion teaches and how it influences the values and choices of people in need.
People act on the basis of their worldview. What we believe about people, about the use of time or the place and meaning of work, about life and death, about nature and the eternal will express itself in our choices. And the consequences follow right away.
This shift in thinking leads many to abandon any concern about whether people understand the created world accurately to be replaced by a concern about how they feel about their belief (“I like it.”, "I personally believe it."). "How do you feel about it?" is the reporter's most common question in any event from Olympic Games to the effects of war. In Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” there is a man who wants to have the right to wish to be a woman. As he will forever be unfulfilled in his wish, so also will inhuman religions, social customs and faulty worldviews fail to satisfy the human need for life, meaning and security. We forget this to our peril. Religious views without any relationship to the real world of human beings, of history, and of life and death are not incidental luxuries for private contemplation. Often they are the cause of the human need in the first place.
Part of the continuous effort to help people must be material help. They need the fish at first, then the fishing tackle to help themselves. Material needs are real and need to be met. But if people believe their needs to be unfulfillable, unreal or unavoidable, they will not believe that change is possible. In addition to meeting material needs, the way of thinking needs to be changed in light of a more fitting view of reality, which is the Bible's worldview. This is not merely a matter of having a few spiritual lessons attached to some material projects. Bible studies need to relate to the problems at hand. They should be a response to the religious and cultural views, which are a part of the problem leading to material disasters. Bowing before Christ, according to the Bible, involves a willingness to become his disciple in the way we live, act and think about work, relationships, authority, responsibility and life.
Belief does not create merely a vision. One should not live in a dream. Christianity includes the past, present and future of the real world in one perspective. With this wider view we are better informed to make our choices. Our belief can then be challenged and corrected by the "glasses" of the word of God. Exposure to the real world will crush the person in his “blind” faith that is not examined in light of reality.
The Christian lives by more than bread when he obeys God's word after seeing that it does not invite to blind faith. "Come now, let us reason together!" "See that it is I, the Lord!” More than 500 brethren testify to the resurrection! When the Bible is recognised to be the accurate description of the real world it serves also as the prescription for the choices and responsibilities before us. The effect of biblical teaching has always been this call and profession of faith and action. Modern man removed the centre of the gospel from what God has said and done to finding a way to feel good about himself. We have replaced orthodoxy with orthopathy: feeling right about what you wish to do.
Paul praises the Thessalonians for doing more than feeling good about themselves, their situation and their belief. While they loved each other, the result of Paul's work amongst them for the few days before he was chased out of town (Acts 17:1-9) was much greater. Proclaiming that "this Jesus... is the Christ" (v 3) shows up in their work produced by what they believed, their labour as an expression of love, and their way of carrying on which is inspired by real hope. These are wonderful descriptions of a different way to live. But evidently we have here much more than a remarkable lifestyle. A whole worldview has been expounded and now lies at the heart of their changed lives.
1st Thessalonians draws out for us many of the details of a Christian worldview. The church is not left with a personal and private faith as a foundation for personal development. The full circle of life is seen in light of the Bible rather than in light of either pagan culture or personal preference. A new pair of glasses was given with definite results in their perspective. The relationships and character of the Thessalonians changed when they believed what they heard through Paul: Their faith produced work, their love prompted labour, their hope stimulated Christ-inspired endurance (1 Thes. 1:3).
Paul had given the church in Thessalonica a different view of the universe: A moral God who thinks, speaks and acts, is eternal and alive in the place of many competing idols or an impersonal energy. God is true, because he is trustworthy in character, actions and history, which can be checked out. He keeps his promises, and they are good, since he does not approve of everything that goes on in the real world. Instead he has sent his Son to judge the world, so we know that we live in a moral universe of right and wrong rather than mere power and weakness. Through his death we have forgiveness. Through his resurrection we have hope. Birth and death, i.e. a cyclical normality in the flow of time, are no longer the markings of human life.
How much more this is than what most people understand Christianity or faith in Christ to be! We live in a moral universe, not one controlled by fate or the unfathomable will of God. There are personal choices to be made on the basis of good and sufficient reasons. We are not part of a collective, extended family or tribal tradition when it comes to moral and personal responsibilities. God acts in history, not only in people's lives. There is personal sin and foolishness, but also a remedy in the work of Christ. Evil is not a result of a mistaken view, of structural wrong or of cultural patterns. At some point there is always the individual choice to believe the truth or a lie about reality.
Paul praises the church for their total change from idols to the living God. A whole structure of information is involved. They see life, all of it, in a different perspective. They were not given the name of Jesus only, to then discover their own meaning in it. Their focus was not their own history, but the history of God in the world. There is something wonderfully objective and historical about this turn from idols, from the tribal to the true, which we have almost lost in our pursuit of personal truth, multicultural openness and denominational fragmentation.
That realisation of the living and accessible, i.e., true, objective lead to a powerful change in their lives, their faith, hope and love expressed in work, labour and endurance. We do not see this as a new and noble state of psychological development, but a shift in their perspectives with very practical consequences.
In the second chapter Paul reminds the church in Thessalonica of the foundation for this change in worldview. He did not appeal to them "from error or impure motives" (2:3) He did not trick them. What he told them is truthful in content. He did not flatter them (v 5) or asked for payment. That same honesty also gave him the courage to speak when there was strong opposition (2:2).
He reminds them of all the emotional and passionate ways in which he taught to convince them of the truth. "Like a mother caring for her children” (2:7) is followed by his reminder that he toiled and suffered hardship to be like a "brother” (2:9) to them. "Like a father” (2:11) he dealt with them to encourage them. All ranges of emotional, passionate, caring relationships were lived out in Paul's teaching out of a concern for their life and thought.
Yet with all this effort on the part of Paul, when push comes to shove, the reason they believed a new perspective and now practice a biblical ethic is that they "received the word of God, which you heard from us. You accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe."
This is a refreshing focus on the word, not on Paul's personality. Their foundation is not the memory of a personality or a personal experience, which have become so central to our generation always in pursuit of another satisfying experience. The Thessalonians did not have certain passages in mind, but what God had said in all of Scripture. For, while he was in Thessalonica, Paul had shown that this Jesus is the Christ. Presenting a complete picture was characteristic for Paul's teaching. He wrote the letter to the Romans to argue the case for the truth of the gospel against a host of possible objections. In Athens he taught to show that the unknown God could in fact be known by his word, his creation and his historic work in Jesus Christ.
Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceeds from the mouth of God. That word is the foundation, the set of glasses that clarifies our understanding of life in the real world. They have turned to God from idols, because they found that the word of God gave a better understanding of the real world than the word of men. It was not based on a collection of human stories. It is not an explanation how the world is to be accepted as normal. The word of God rather gave a broad framework for a moral stand in an immoral world.
To the end of the third chapter Paul praises the church for standing firm in the midst of persecution. Their neighbours had tried to kill him. They would make them suffer as well (2:14). That should not surprise them, as the discovery of truth does not always please those for whom it is a threat to change their ways. But they should not "be unsettled by these trials" (3:3). He had told them that they would be persecuted (3:4). Now he was pleased to hear that they "are standing firm in the Lord" (3:8) in spite of their hardship.
The Bible never praises the status quo or calls people to submission under the dictates of normality. Religions tend to require that of their adherents. They link the individual experience to some supposed meaningful universal of nature, the will of God or the cosmos. But God calls people to stand against the normality of suffering. We are not to accept it or even death. The Bible does not promise a good or easy life. More often than not life is dangerous, difficult and a pain.
We are not promised an easier life when we believe God. But we are promised real blessing and deliverance. The joy which the Bible mentions is the joy of knowing that there is a moral God who will judge. That gives us confidence that we are not foolish when we complain about life in a fallen world. In contrast to religions as described above, the God of the Bible creates a covenant with us, so that we don't have to merge with nature or the powers that be.
There is no other reason to believe God than that he is morally credible. The word of God informs us of that against all present appearances of his absence. It is only a matter of time before everlasting righteousness will be brought in (Daniel 9:24). It is not a question of whether God's standards are different, whether he cares or whether I am possibly mistaken when I don't approve of the status quo. The word by which we are called to live, confirms our anguish, justifies our cynicism and responds with authority. The battle will be won, not by us, not necessarily in our life time, but for sure, because God will not abandon his creation to sin and the results of sin.
That is a radically different view of the world than what is found in religions. It will change your perspective and your actions. It is not based on clever ideas, which would not suffice. it is based on what God has said and what he has already done. The God who ran after Adam rather than leaving him to the consequences of his choice, is also one who will solve the task of what to do about a spoiled world.
With the worldview of the Bible, men and women are called to march to a different drummer. It will demand that we change our understanding, our choices, our priorities and educate our minds and hearts to do so.
Changing a worldview is a threatening thing to many. Old patterns and beliefs are questioned and made relative. The solid structures of belief groups are broken up. It may set children against their parents, as Jesus warned. Often these structures were the only safety, offering, as they do, a way to understand and approve the way life ran. And yet, for the sake of human beings, their life, their visions and their future, faulty worldviews need to be changed. Where that does not take place, the old patterns with their destructive effects continue.
We will always have our own problems as a result of sin and disobedience. Therefore we must not transpose our patterns without sensitivity. We must not absolutise our accomplishments. We are ourselves constantly in need of further instruction from God's word. But all this does not add up to a rejection of the good things God has already worked in us in areas which transcend the personal and psychological.
Where God's word was drawn from to establish an ethic of life it has led to people being able to put food on the table, to care for the sick and to make them well, to struggle for better laws and relationships in public as well as to protect our fragile existence from the ravishes of a fallen nature. We must continue to take his word as the basis to struggle against thorns and thistles by the sweat of the brow, against false information and poor kings, against false priests and unjust judges.A change of worldview is not a philosophical discussion, an abstract consideration among many options. It is a turn from erroneous views about God and man to those, which are factually and morally true.
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