Worldview & Story
This is a slightly abbreviated transcript of a message I gave at East End Ecclesia
Sunday morning, September 4, 2011
What is a worldview? Essentially… (a duh moment) our worldview is how we view the world. It’s our comprehensive appreciation of reality—our ever-developing story of how everything is connected—our sum total of understandings which organizes and gives meaning to our lives, to our actions, to our world.
Our worldview helps us make sense of the universe and our place within it. It is our scheme for being—our internal map we have of reality that helps us navigate the complexities of life. It is the dynamic lens through which we perceive, interpret and live out reality.
We each have a worldview—a set of values, attitudes, meanings and beliefs we hold true concerning the nature of reality. Strictly speaking, there are as many worldviews as there are thoughtful persons. Every one of us has a unique standpoint on the world. No one else completely shares our distinct perspectives and experiences of life.
Now, does this mean there are multi-verses, multiple worlds? Of course not, there is just this one world, this uni-verse which we all share. Although there are a multitude of views on the world, one’s view, however—however true or false—does not dictate reality… to an extent. Let me qualify. There are worldviews (or false conceptions of reality), false ideas regarding the nature of God and man such as nazi or communist ideologies which have terribly impacted our world. But nevertheless, just because an atheistic worldview, for example, negates the existence of God, this, of course, does not mean ‘there is no God.’ And just because a materialistic worldview denies the reality of spirit—the reality of spirit beings such as angels or demons—just because one does not believe in them does not mean they don’t exist.
Or, let’s say: Just because someone may believe that the sun revolves around the earth, instead of the earth revolving around the sun, this belief does not make it so. A worldview does not create reality; the way we view things does not automatically determine that the world is the way we want it or believe it to be. No matter what we think, or how we spin things—ultimate reality is determined by God alone, governed by His spiritual, physical and universal laws.
This is my point: although there are many subjective appreciations of reality, there is only one objective reality.
The key for us is this: If our story of the world does not correspond to the reality of the world—we walk in darkness, we walk in relative darkness. Consider what it means in Scripture when the Psalmist writes: ‘Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path’ [119:105].
And Here’s my premise: a Christian worldview must necessarily be a Biblical worldview. A Christian worldview must be a Biblical worldview. For what does a worldview do? A worldview provides answers to the Big Questions of life.
What are some of those questions: Who am I? Where did I come from? What will happen to me? Why is the world so jacked up? Why am I so jacked up? Why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? What will satisfy me? What can I hope for? What can I know? And we could go on and on with these big questions.
Our worldview is our image and story of reality. It is the Big Picture informing our lives. It may be interesting to note that our Biblical worldview answers questions other worldviews lack the framework to even consider. Hebrews 11:3 says that ‘by faith we understand that the universe was framed (or created) by the word of God.’ Likewise, by faith we understand that the Bible is the inspired Word of God enlightening us to our origin, our purpose, and our end. The Bible reveals to us the true meaning of life. It is God himself who is our beginning, who is our life, who is our end.
I love the great formulation of Scriptural truths we have in the Westminster Catechism. Question one asks: What is the chief and highest end of man? In other words, What is the meaning of life? The answer is this: ‘Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.’
In another classic expression of Scriptural truth Augustine confesses to God: ‘You have created us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.’
Consider this: a worldview wrong about God will absolutely be wrong about man, about the end of man, about what it means to be human. We are inundated, educated, entertained by images, teachings, and stories engineered to shape our thinking, our values, our beliefs. Being human, we are social beings, members of societies. And over and above our individual worldviews we have societal worldviews which (by institutional means) serve to authoritatively construct for us the quote unquote ‘real’ story of how and why things are the way that they are.
Essentially it comes down to this. Take, for instance, a secular psychiatric education. No matter how extensive or expensive the degree, if it does not appreciate that we are made in the image of God, and that the only way we can ultimately be made whole is through a relationship with Jesus Christ—Anything short of that knowledge is, essentially, the blind mis-leading the blind!
This is a world of darkness. Next week, Eric [Phillips], in his series on Colossians One, perhaps he’ll detail for us the significance of verses 13 and 14, which read: God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” That’s the gospel in a nutshell there.
The Bible informs us, as even Eric mentioned last week, how we are smack dab in the middle of a great cosmic drama involving a war between two kingdoms: the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of the Adversary. Our reality is one of a universal conflict between the power of God and the adversarial powers presiding over this present darkness.
Within our world we have competing stories of the world, competing stories of everything—of who we are; stories of what will satisfy our deepest hungers; of how we can solve the problems of life; and we can go on and on—stories are everywhere. But the important thing to remember is that the story we take as our own, to an enormous degree, does have the power to influence our personal reality. For the story we take as our own can have the power to, for example, make us fearful, or anxious, or miserable and even dead; or it can have the Gospel power to provide hope, peace, joy and the abundant life.
As you well know, not all stories or worldviews are created equal. There are good stories and there are bad stories. There are healthy stories and there are unhealthy stories. Even within the Christian realm of worldviews there are healthy and unhealthy conceptions of reality.
First though let us consider a religious worldview that is at odds with Christianity—in particular, how it regards the issue of evil and suffering. Hinduism is a worldview that considers evil to be illusory, to be an illusion, and suffering to be karmic to the extent that ‘You don’t interfere with someone suffering—for you might make it worse for them in their next life!’ Right? This is a cruel conception of reality blinding hearts and minds to the sufferings of others. It is a fatalistic worldview that cuts suffering people off from the tender compassions and mercies they so desperately need.
Regarding the issue of suffering in a particular popular sphere of Christendom we have the promotion of a worldview which is quite occultic, falling into the category of worldviews that believe the universe is a product of our wills—that we can manifest reality according to the power of our imaginations. Does this sound familiar? Let me tell you—those false teachers within the church (and we see them on TBN) that preach a health-and-wealth-gospel. . . those so called ‘word faith,’ name-it-and-claim-it; blab-it-and-grab-it prosperity evangelists who preach that all you need to do is believe with enough faith the reality you desire and it will be yours—all you need to do is exercise enough faith and plant enough seeds, and you won’t have any sickness or poverty or suffering in your life. ‘It is not God’s will,’ according to them, ‘that you suffer!’ This, I tell you (almost with tears) is heresy, a tragic lie that has infected the body of Christ.
This ‘word faith’ worldview sets believers up for some very profound disillusionments. This false theology creates false hopes and expectations-of-God that do not correspond to how he has revealed His ways to be in the Word of God. These false teachers fleece the flock and promote lies that set the stage for, again, severe disappointments, bitterness and despair.
Question: How do we know where to invest ourselves? How do we know which story or version of reality we can securely give our selves to? How do we know? We each have a working knowledge of the truth. Do we not? No one intentionally imports lies (falsehoods) into their worldview.
To the degree that we presently understand the world—this is our worldview. To the degree that we presently understand God and the things of God—this is our working thesis of reality.
As I am a work-in-progress, so is my worldview. I am pleased to tell you that in my engagement with Eric [Phillips] (and the Biblical expression for this type of theological engagement is “iron sharpening iron”)… through my engagement with him I have come to change a certain element within my Christian worldview. And who’s to say whether it’s small or big. Is it true? Does it accord itself with the Word of God? What inspired me to change this certain precept? It was a challenge to me to reconsider the issue in light of Scripture. And as Eric laid it out for me, knowing Scripture, he was right. And I was glad to conform my theology to the Word of God, to embrace Biblical truth.
Scripture says: “Study to show thyself approved to God, rightly dividing the word of truth.”
Again, a proper Christian worldview must correspond unequivocally to the true teachings of the Bible. Scripture says that ‘In His light we see light.’ That ‘faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.’ That faith is this power to see with spiritual eyes the unseen.
On this side of eternity our knowledge of the world will be partial, imperfect and incomplete—‘for now we see through a glass darkly.’ Nevertheless, we do have all we need on this side of life to have a blessed life full of peace and joy and every good thing.
What are these things? Well the truest knowledge that we have is a relationship with God through Jesus. Jesus said, ‘This is eternal life, [to know the Father, the only true God, and Jesus Christ’ the Son (John 17:3).] We have the Holy Spirit residing within us—we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. We have prayer—access to God at any time, access to His throne of Grace. We have each other—we have a community of believers—we should not minimize that. We have His Holy Word—not everybody has access to that. We have the heart and mind of Christ. We have access to everything we need to glorify God and to fully enjoy Him and His universe forever.
One of the things that I enjoy doing among many things is poring over those images we’ve gotten back from the Hubble Space Telescope—galaxies, nebulae, quasars and deep space objects that are just marvelous. And it wasn’t until April of 1990 when Hubble was launched into space (above the distorting effects of the atmosphere), it wasn’t until then that we were enabled to get a look at these deep space things we couldn’t see so clearly (or even at all) before because of the distortion.
In terms of time and money the Hubble Space Telescope was a very expensive telescope. 10,000 people were involved in the design and construction of this bus-sized piece of technology that cost 1.5 billion dollars. So there was a great deal of anticipation in the scientific community over Hubble’s successful launch. However (and you may know the story) when the scientists back on earth began receiving Hubble’s first images they discovered something critically wrong with the telescope. Hubble was relaying back blurred and fuzzy images. It wasn’t working.
The scientists analyzed and traced the imaging problem back to the telescope’s primary mirror and found that it was crafted into the wrong shape (causing what is technically called a spherical aberration. [It was an] eight foot mirror).
It had taken years of precision to curve and polish the primary mirror to its present shape, and although the error in its construction was ever so slight—so slight that the flaw could not have been detected with the naked human eye—Nevertheless, the aberration was significant enough to throw the captured light of the universe out of focus.
The solution to the mistake was the creation of a set of corrective lenses (that was later installed) enabling us to receive the sharp, clear, amazing images we have today.
I introduced this message by describing a worldview as a dynamic lens through which we perceive, interpret and live out reality. Our worldview lens is dynamic in this respect—it is not only something we look through that brings the reality of life into focus (like contacts and eyeglasses), but it is something we live through that expresses our relationship to reality—like our faith in action. Our worldview is not only what we believe, it is the dynamic witness of who we are—our faith working itself out in reality.
If our worldview is our mirror on the world, the perceptual apparatus through which the issues and meanings of life come into focus, the Hubble mistake, then, illustrates for us the vital importance of having a properly shaped worldview. If our mirror on the world is the wrong shape things are going to be fuzzy, we’re not going to get a clear picture of reality. We’re not going to be able to discern what’s happening. Just like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Jesus helped them discern, He took them back through the Scriptures “and beginning with Moses and all the Prophets He interpreted to them the things concerning Himself” [Luke 24: 27].
Again, A Christian worldview is a Biblical worldview. The Bible is the lens.
As creatures made in God’s image we were created to mirror our Creator. But how can we do this when we’re so out of shape? Let me suggest, as I just did, that the corrective lenses that we have been provided are the stories and the truths that God has given us in His Word, His Torah.
James likens the Bible to a mirror. He writes, ‘Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing’ (1:22-25).
This week I listened to a message given by Daniel Taylor. He said that we are ‘story shaped creatures.’ We’re story shaped creatures. He also suggested that we consider our life of faith to be a story in which we are a character. As we each have a worldview, we each have a story. We were born into story, into the unfolding drama of history. And as God is the God of history—history is, ultimately, the story of God. History is His Story. In fact our English word ‘gospel’ comes from the old Anglo Saxon word godspell, meaning, literally: God’s Story. The good story of the gospel is the Master Story we live by and live in. Elie Wiesel says: ‘God made man because he loves stories.’
Frederick Buechner in his memoir (in which he writes about his childhood growing up in the East End of Pittsburgh), he writes: ‘My assumption is that the story of any one of us is in some measure the story of us all.’ ‘The story of one of us is the story of us all.’ This is true. This should be especially true in the Christian community where we are pictured as the Body of Christ. When one member rejoices we all rejoice. When one member suffers we all suffer [see 1 Corinthians 12:12-27]. By the way, I had a toothache this week. Let me tell you, the rest of my body could not experience much pleasure while my mouth was in such pain. When one member suffers we all suffer—in my body, and that’s the way it should be in the Body of Christ.
To escape, I found myself watching a certain series on Netflix—one television episode after another. I was drawn in, had to keep on watching to find out what happened to the various characters, had to find out how certain conflicts would resolve. It was satisfying and the story was pretty good.
So my question to you is—What makes for a good story? What does every good story need?
Stories are an invention of God. And as we look at History [at the Master’s Story] we see this structure that [most] all good stories have. It’s a triadic structure of Creation, Fall, Redemption. Look at a simple story of ‘boy meets girl’: falls in love—Creation. Boy loses girl—Fall. Boy gets girl back—there’s Redemption. So there’s this triadic structure to our lives and to the shape of human history. Creation—Fall—Redemption. And the theme of this Master Story is Shalom—a sense of well-being, wholeness.
So let me get back to the question. What does every good story need?
For me—It needs a likeable and humble lead character. And this character must want something significant (we need desire), and there’s got to be risk involved, danger, perhaps even fear. A great fearsome obstacle to overcome. There has to be weighty decisions that could turn the whole story ugly or beautiful. (And this may sound strange, I can’t believe I’m telling you this, but one of the most beautiful things to me is deep utter sadness. Maybe more beautiful to observe than experience. But what I love about participating in these stories is to vicariously experience the whole range of human emotions.)
Usually, a story, a good story has a protagonist and it has an antagonist. The hero has an adversary, and a great conflict ensues. In fact, if there is no conflict the story isn’t interesting or even meaningful. If I were a girl, there would have to be romance—a hero who against all odds is willing to die for his bride. And in the end there’s got to be a happy resolution.
And what makes for a good story (that we either read, or watch on a screen), what makes for a good story also makes for a good life. If there wasn’t conflict and fearful decisions in life there wouldn’t be growth. Our stories would never get anywhere. If it wasn’t for suffering where would the joy be? How would our character ever become more like Christ? For that is the script for us, that the Sovereign God of the universe is working out everything for our good story—that in the end our Master may say, ‘Well done! Good story!’ In the end when we see Him face to face (and this is our destiny): we will be like Him, and we will be perfect and holy and complete.
We read in Romans 5, verses 2 through 5, ‘We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.’
James writes, ‘Count it all joy when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance (patience, fortitude). And let endurance have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing’ [1:2-4].
Helen Keller who became blind at nine months of age writes, ‘Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.’
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, the Russian political prisoner and author of The Gulag Archipelago, writes, ‘Bless you, prison. Bless you prison for it was in you that I discovered that the meaning of earthly existence lies—not as we have grown used to thinking—in prospering, but in the development of the soul.’ Bless you prison.
And Donald Miller from a 2007 message on ‘Story’ (and I’m drawing heavily on Donald Miller)… he said, ‘If there aren’t hard times the character can’t change. The only thing that changes us is hard times. Joy doesn’t change us at all. We all want joy but it doesn’t change us, it doesn’t shape us, it doesn’t transform us. Every story needs conflict or the story doesn’t work. And then every story needs resolution.’
We know our end, we know the end of the story. We will be like Him; we will be whole. God is our beginning and our end. He is also the Author and Finisher, the Originator and Perfecter of our faith.
I love what the Psalmist writes:
‘Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
And before any of my days began,
They all were written and ordained for me in your book.’ [139:16]
Let’s contrast this with what we read in Malachi, how it talks about this ‘book of remembrance’ [3:16-18]. God has scripted, ordained our life in such a way that it’s destiny. He is sovereign however we are also responsible, and so as we responsibly live out our lives—it is being written down.
One of my favorite verses is Proverbs 16:9, ‘The mind of man plots out his path,’ or it can be read, ‘the heart of man plans his way. However, it is the LORD who ultimately determines where he will go.’
Psalm 37:23 reads, ‘The steps of a good man’ (that’s the King James and the reason it reads ‘good man’ is that the Hebrew word there is GeVeR—it has a heroic dimension to it, so) ‘The steps of a heroic man (or woman) are ordered by the LORD, as the LORD delights in her way.’
This should be comforting, knowing the absolute Sovereignty of God over the course of our lives. It is He who enables us to tell a good story with our lives. He made a decision for us to be His children before He even created the universe (before the foundations of the world), and He made a decision for us in the here and now that we would live a life that bears fruit for His glory. For Scripture tells us that we are ‘saved by grace through faith for good works which he prepared beforehand that we should walk in them’ [Ephesians 2:8-10].
So how are we walking? What are the stories we are telling to the world, to the angels, to those around us—such as to the children, Because it’s by stories that people learn, they learn how a man relates to a woman. How we living? What kind of story are we telling.
Stories are about decisions and their consequences. Certain decisions act as hinges that the trajectory of our lives swings upon. The decisions we make (or the ones that are made for us) make for what kind of story we are living. Decisions do dictate where our stories go. Where are we going with our stories? How we living?
[I confess] this message is a huge challenge to me. It has encouraged me, or I want to encourage you to make the kind of heroic decisions that will advance your story in delightful ways. Pursue your hearts desires. ‘Delight yourself in the LORD, and He will give you the desires of your heart’ [Psalm 37:4]. So much can be said about this, so much can be said. But I want to close by also encouraging you to be careful what you fill your heart with. There are healthy and unhealthy stories that are set before us for consumption. I know this, I have Netflix and the internet.
I remember going into Blockbuster before it went out of business, and I would spend like an hour in there browsing all our options, trying to find a story, a movie—my Grandmother calls movies ‘stories,’ by the way, ‘There’s a good story on tonight’ she would say—So I would spend an hour trying to find two movies for if I’m going to rent one movie and bring it back I might as well have two, Or if it were a wonderful afternoon—three movies, but I could generally never find more than two movies that I felt were worth watching. That’s the kind of options that we have.
One of the proverbs tell us that ‘above all else, we are to guard our hearts, for from it flow the springs of life’ [4:23].
At the deepest center of our being there is either a hole or there is God. There can be nothing else. For nothing but God can occupy this place that He created for Himself. What we embrace to quench the deepest thirst of our being, what we set our heart on will either be God or an idol—one will satisfy, and the other will disappoint and even enslave. As we embrace God—He fills us with His life.
I suspect Jesus was thinking of this verse, Proverbs 4:23, ‘above all else guard your heart, for it is the source of life.’ I believe he was thinking of this in John 7 when he said, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”’ Scripture goes on to explain. ‘Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive’ [John 7:37-39]. It’s a spiritual reality. It’s the Spirit!
There is a thirst, there is a hunger that nothing in this world can satisfy. There is a deep desire to be connected to the source of our life. Is there not? We know from the words of Jesus in John 15 that apart from being in Christ we can do nothing. Yet in Him we can ask whatever we wish and it will be done for us, so that God may be glorified, and our Joy may be perfect, may be full, may be complete. We’re not alone in this. We have God’s Spirit. As God’s characters in His Story He has given us all that we need.
Proverbs 16:3 says, ‘Commit your work (your doings, your efforts and energy) to the LORD, and He will establish your plans.’ Commit your life to Him, He’ll work it all out. You can’t muck your life up. You can’t. We are His workmanship saved by grace through faith for good works which he prepared beforehand that we should bear fruit for His glory [see Ephesians 2:4-10].
Thank you Lord for the Joy that comes from living a life of obedience—trusting and obeying! ‘For there’s no other way to be happy,’ as the song goes, ‘but to trust and obey.’
And this is what Paul in Philippians encourages us to live: a Spirit-filled life of obedience. Philippians 2, Paul says, ‘Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to work for his good pleasure.’ In other words: As we cultivate the gift of life we have been given, God energizes and empowers our wills and our actions to be perfect expressions of his good pleasure. That’s the reality. ‘In Him we live and move and have our being.’
Let me end with a short prayer that Donald Miller prayed at the end of his message. In closing, he said, ‘Let’s obey God. Let me pray for you: God, You have given us a pen inked with blood—it is our life. We want to write great stories. We want those stories to absolutely glorify You. We want them to point to You. We praise You God in Jesus’ name. Amen.’
This was a slightly abbreviated transcript of a message I gave at East End Ecclesia
Sunday morning, September 4, 2011
Old Testament reading: Malachi 3:16-18
Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, and the LORD listened and heard them. So a Book of Remembrance was written before Him, for those who fear Yahweh and who meditate on His name. “They shall be mine,” says the LORD of Hosts, “In the day when I make them My treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him.
New Testament reading: Luke 24:13-27
On the day of Jesus’s resurrection, two of His disciples were walking to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about everything that had taken place. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing Him. And He said to them, “What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?” And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered Him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” And He said to them, “What things?” And they said to Him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered Him up to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find His body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that He was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but Him they did not see.” And He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into His glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.