Last Friday I examined a study by the Barna Group that alleged to identify adults with a Christian or biblical worldview. In truth, even though the study and the post used “Christian” and “biblical” almost interchangeably, the fact is that people being polled might not have considered the words equivalent in this context. That is a challenge for surveyors. Despite universal compulsory education and the wide availability of dictionaries in hard copy and online, it is still extremely difficult for people to communicate fully on most subjects. My husband and I cannot agree on the color of one of his jackets, and this difference is quite trivial. To disagree on the meaning of the word “person,” however, can precipitate incomprehensible violence. This very disagreement is at the root of Mohammed’s rejection of Christianity in the 7th century, and this semantic problem underlies violence between Christians and Muslims to this day. People very often do not recognize the number of issues that are actually rooted in a misunderstanding about the meanings of words. I vividly recall a shouting match when my daughter was in high school during which it became clear to me that our argument was due to our choice of words, not a real difference of opinion. I shouted, “But I agree with you!” to which my daughter replied at the top of her lungs, “Well, I agree with you more!”
Differences in worldview are a bit more substantive than my differences with my teenage daughter. Differences in worldview underly many gigantic issues such as the US national debt and the perceived need for government to assure universal healthcare. A worldview is by definition comprehensive and powerful. That is to say, an individual’s worldview truly shapes his life.
In the course of teaching a study of the book of Mark, Dr. Rick Carlson took some time to talk about worldview. It made perfect sense, because the book of Mark is the life of Jesus, and Jesus’ life, like anyone else’s life, reveals his worldview. The Greek word that led to this study is phroneo. Dr. Carlson’t definition of the word is evaluative point of view, in other words worldview.
To understand Jesus’ worldview, it must be remembered that Jesus is God in the flesh. When Jesus spoke, it was God speaking. When Jesus acted, it was God in action. The story of Jesus is the story of God walking around among people. Several years ago, I remember hearing a song in which the singer asked, “What if God were one of us, just a slob like one us?” When I heard that song, I knew that the singer had never truly confronted Jesus, because if she had met Jesus, she would know the answer to her speculative lyrical question. Jesus came down from heaven and became one of us. He lived with 24-hour days. He had to pay bills and taxes, just like everyone else. He got tired. He got hungry. Everything humans do, Jesus did. Yet he never stopped being God, and his Godhood established his evaluative point of view. He evaluated everything and everyone he encountered based on his worldview, just as every person does.
God’s worldview is very different from that of most people. God’s starting point to evaluate what is happening around him is loneliness and servanthood. There is a great choral work whose name I forget now that begins, “And God stepped out in space and he said, ‘I’m lonely. I think I’ll make me a world.’” God’s behavior in the creation story shows us a person lovingly creating a place for people to live, and then he creates the people: “The Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” Then later, knowing what loneliness is, God looked at Adam and said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” God knew loneliness, and God knew fulfillment, and God made woman.
We can see the elements of loneliness and servanthood that set boundaries and burst customs as we read the story of the life and ministry of Jesus. After his baptism, he immediately confronted Satan’s worldview in the wilderness. That battle is a model for our lives, too, because even though we can look around and see all sorts of worldviews at work in our world, every conflict ultimately boils down to the same conflict Jesus endured in the wilderness.
What was Jesus up against in the wilderness? What are the elements of Satan’s worldview?
- No suffering – not the cross
- Me first – serve self, do what feels good to me, get what I want
- Greatness and power – be in charge, tell other people where to go, or simply scorn their very existence
- Save your life – Avoid risk and danger unless it feels like fun. Never confront when deception will get you past the risk without revealing truth
- Conform to other people’s values – be a chameleon. Fit in. Look like all the others
- Blend in with the collective mentality – trade in your personal values for the community’s values
- Exploit others – others are expendable, if you must use someone to get to your goal, just do it
- Acquire for self–Cannot give to others because to do so limits what you can do for yourself
When Satan showed up in the wilderness, he began to grind away at Jesus’ worldview. “You poor thing. So God sent you out here to starve. Why should God’s son starve? Just make these rocks into bread. Who will know? A man’s got to eat, you know. Why, when all is said and done, who really cares if you fast or not? Why should you suffer this way? “
Jesus demonstrated his worldview and showed us all how it is done. He told his disciples about this experience later. How else would anyone know this story? He told them so they would know that it is possible to live by God’s worldview, and so that they would know the consequences of accepting God’s worldview. I don’t feel strong enough to stand up to Satan by myself, so it helps me a great deal to know that Jesus could do it. I rely on him, because this story tells me he will win.
Jesus responded to Satan with all the force of his worldview:
- Yes to suffering, even the cross
- Me last – the least of all, the one who suffers for everyone else
- Weakness – this is the appearance of weakness, such as hunger, even starvation, that covers inner strength and power. Jesus was willing to look weak, because he was not weak. Appearances do not matter.
- Lose your life – Jesus risked losing his life in the wilderness by fasting so long. Later he risked his life and lost his life on the cross. But that loss set the stage for eternal gain for all people.
- Conform to God’s values – When Satan tempted Jesus to leap off the temple, it was a temptation to do what would excite people. What a spectacle, what a self-serving use of God’s power in Jesus. Jesus stayed true to his mission
- Stand out against oppressive tyranny – Most Jews resented Roman tyranny, which was huge and oppressive, but the real tyranny in their lives was the tyranny of the Pharisees, who tried to run every breath of their lives – what they could eat, when they could walk, what they could wear, what sort of work they could do, and so forth. Jesus spent three years relentlessly dismantling the Pharisaical tyranny in full view of his disciples, preparing them to persist in that rebellion
- Serve others (servanthood) – Jesus never put himself first, not even the night before his crucifixion. A human being faced with such a prospect might want to be pampered. Instead Jesus served his disciples by washing their feet.
- Give to others – Jesus had riches nobody could take away, but he was still God. He could take whatever he wanted. That is what human power does. Instead, he gave healing, loving touch, sight, forgiveness, speech, and life itself to all who came into his presence. He never asked anyone for anything. He was always giving.
Each of us faces ongoing, maybe daily, challenges to our willingness to serve God before self. Sometimes we fail. Sometimes we simply cannot give up self. We cannot mature to a place where we always evaluate our options the way God does. If Jesus had failed to do that, all would be lost. We would have no means of cleansing, no way to be made righteous, no grace, no forgiveness. If Jesus had caved in to Satan’s worldview even once, even at the very last minute after living and teaching and suffering, if Jesus had given up God’s worldview and absorbed Satan’s worldview, he would have climbed down off that cross to screams and hallelujahs and fainting women. He would have been scooped up by the Pharisees and washed and combed and hauled out regularly for miracle shows till the day of his natural death. And if he had done that, we would have no hope, because Jesus failed to stand firm in God’s worldview.
Each of us is called to adopt God’s worldview. That is what Jesus meant when he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” We all want to do it, or we think we do. Then comes the day when we lose a friend or lose a job or simply can’t learn to love an enemy. It is too hard. Satan has worn us down and we cannot go on. That is when we need to be able to call on Jesus, who lived by God’s worldview without fail. He will carry us past the failures and wipe our tears and hold us up when we feel too weak to go on, because he does not fail.
I wish I could say that I live by God’s worldview. I can only say that I have promised. I keep trying to put self last and put Jesus first, but I am weak. I intend to bring my cross along every day, but sometimes I just don’t pick it up. I want to give and give, but I can’t quite get over the fear of doing without. I have a long way to go. Because Jesus went the whole distance faithfully to the cross and beyond, there is hope for me. There is hope for you, too.
What would you say your worldview is?