When worldviews collide

A collision between worldviews can be cataclysmic. The historical role of religious sectarianism in wars may prove that point. But maybe just as dangerous are the collisions where one worldview suffuses the other; where values are slowly and methodically changed over time. Outright collisions of the first kind (e.g. wars) can be recognized by the destruction wrought. People and societies suffer the consequences. But in the end neither worldview may be eradicated. It takes collisions of the second kind to do that.

In the first post of this series (“Much ado about leadership”) I talked about how the definition of leadership that is valued in the world of Industry is not necessarily applicable to our present life and role in the Kingdom of God, as taught by Jesus. The discussion could be continued and expanded: more points pro lined up, and foreseen arguments contra defused. But I don’t feel it is necessary because the reader is more than able to read Jesus’ teachings on his (or her) own.

One of my points was to show how assumptions useful in one worldview can easily slip into another worldview where they may not be justified at all. How do we avoid trying to mix oil and water?

Growing up, my mom used to tell me that it was good to listen to all sorts of people, good to read all sorts of things; but then it was my job to take the good and leave the bad behind. Therefore, I will always be the first one to acknowledge that wise counsel can be found in many places (including many worldviews). However, the fact that many places are involved, means that all those good counsels may not agree with each other. It is my job to find the domain of applicability of each and to decide which supersedes which in a given circumstance. But how can I do that?

How do I establish the gradations in the scale of “rightness?”

number line

The answer comes from attempting to apply my mom’s advice to the Bible. What do I take? What do I leave? Of necessity, I have to keep it all. There is nothing to reject. Why? Because the message, the advice from the Maker of the Universe, from the One who made humanity, cannot possibly be wrong. It is like saying, on the scale of “rightness”, I have found the end point: infinity. All other claims to rightness fall to the left of that point.

If the statement I just made bothers you because there are a lot of things, especially in the Old Testament, that don’t make sense to you, let me suggest a solution: Stick to Jesus.

Why? Certainly, the answer is not because He changed the message. Because He Himself said He didn’t come to do that:

Matthew 5:17-18 Think not that I am come to make void the law or the prophets; I am not come to make void, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Until the heaven and the earth pass away, one iota or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all come to pass.

Then, why go to Him? Because He understood the Law and the Prophets. He had read it all and understood all that is written there, intimately… because He IS the Word of God.

John 1:1-2 In [the] beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. *He* was in the beginning with God.

And yet, at the same time, He was human, just like every one of us.

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…

Being that combination that strains all categories (what SK called the God-Man) makes Him the perfect bridge to span the chasm between God the Father and all His lost children. This is why He came:

Hebrews 1:1-2 God having spoken in many parts and in many ways formerly to the fathers in the prophets, at the end of these days has spoken to us in [the person of the] Son, whom he has established heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds…

painting by James Tissot
Painting by James Tissot, “Jesus preaching in a ship”

Jesus is the Revelation that God the Father chose to send at the end of days. What end of days? When God finally fulfilled His Promise to crush the head of the serpent, to destroy the power of the world-system and usher into this world the power and Reality of the Kingdom of God. The end of days is here. John the Baptizer proclaimed it and Jesus actualized it: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”

So, just go to Jesus. Is He enough? He is more than enough:

John 5:24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that he that hears my word, and believes him that has sent me, has life eternal, and does not come into judgment, but is passed out of death into life.

Therefore, when I am faced with advice that, were I to take it, I know it would lead me away from Jesus’ teaching as I understand it, I have no choice. I know whom I will follow. In the case of my post on leadership, the choice I wanted to bring out was one between running the Church as a business, with the same standards of “excellence” of a “good” business versus running the Church as a group of believers.

The former model seeks success, seeks growth, seeks expansion. I trust the reader is familiar enough with the various movements that have swept through the modern Church to recognize some of these motifs. And all these goals and associated strategies have been justified in the name of the Kingdom. In the latter model, every individual believer works for the Kingdom. In the former, we work together because organized we are more powerful, more effective. Together we can accomplish great things. In the latter, we work together because Jesus told us to. And through us, through our faithfulness, He will accomplish His great purpose.

If I find that a worldview gets in the way of me being able to love unconditionally, if it can cause me to judge another (for instance, a leader) for failed expectations… that is too high a price to pay. Compared to infinity, no number comes close. That was my point in the first post.

But what is wrong with trying to succeed?

This is not a new tension. In his Practice in Christianity, Soren Kierkegaard brings up several times the difference between two worldviews in the Church: The Church Triumphant versus the Church Militant. He points out that the way we look at our individual responsibility before the Lord, the way we live our lives, is affected by which of these two worldviews we believe to be true. SK was writing around 1850, to an audience (the people of his country, Denmark) that lived as if the whole world (or at least the people that mattered in the world) had finally become Christian. If all are Christian, the Church has triumphed.

If that is so, no one need ever suffer for the faith. If that is so, there is no need to evangelize the society. If that is so, there is no need to preach against selfishness or sin of any kind because, after all, we are all going to Heaven. But SK argued that the Church cannot possibly be triumphant until Jesus has returned as King of all Kings. In other words, until He has returned as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. Until then, the only Jesus we know is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

SK was adamant that the only Jesus we can have a relationship with is the same Jesus with whom His apostles had a relationship.

And we can do this even if we are 2,000 years away in time from their time, because Jesus, as the Son of God, transcends time itself. What Jesus said then, what He taught them, is what He says today and what He teaches us today. SK taught that to be a Christian is to live as if we were contemporaneous with Jesus. To be a Christian is to take the challenges that He laid out before those that followed Him and face them head-on today. To be a Christian is to hear His call to follow and choose our answer the way we would have had to choose it back then, to acknowledge that, if back then it would mean that we would be giving up our lives, the same is demanded of us today.

Jesus never promised His disciples success:

John 16:33 These things have I spoken to you that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye have tribulation; but be of good courage: I have overcome the world.

How did Jesus overcome the world?

At the cross.

My second post of the series (“In praise of tears”) is addressing a similar collision of worldviews. This one is even subtler because it is not about worldly wisdom versus Jesus’ teaching. It is more about how we can tend to interpret our favorite Bible verses to say what we wish to be true.

What do you think a sermon based on Romans 8:37 should say? Romans 8:37 But in all these things we more than conquer through him that has loved us. Is this overcoming referring to triumphing over troubles and hardships? Is that what Paul is talking about in that chapter?

But if I am a disciple of the Master, should I expect my life to be any different from His? Jesus said,

Matthew 10:24-25 (NASB) “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he may become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they insult the members of his household!

One time, a disciple came and told Jesus that he would follow Him anywhere…

Luke 9:57-58 (NASB) As they were going on the road, someone said to Him, “I will follow You wherever You go.” And Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”

Jesus replies with truth-in-advertising. Anywhere is a big word. The Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head…

Doesn’t sound like success – in this world – does it? Peter himself had to crash head-on into this contrast between what we wish for and what the Kingdom of God may require.

Matthew 16:21-23 (NASB) From that time Jesus began to point out to His disciples that it was necessary for Him to go to Jerusalem and to suffer many things from the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and to be killed, and to be raised up on the third day. And yet Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You!” But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s purposes, but men’s.”

painting by Tissot from the life of Christ
Painting by James Tissot, “Get thee behind me Satan”

We all want to succeed. None of us wants to get up in the morning thinking, “today is not the day that that heartache is going to get resolved.” We want to hope: Yes, heartache is real, but God is bigger, isn’t He?

We want to do something about it.

I agree, we should do something about it. My point was that sometimes, that something, the only something we can do about it, is to forget what we want, how we want it resolved, how we want to see it resolved, and instead lay it at His feet and weep. Does that mean we have given up, that we are… losers?

Well, many of us have heard this verse from Psalm 30 (maybe in a song in Church): weeping may last for the night but joy comes in the morning. Have you ever meditated on that difference in timeline? Weeping may last the whole night… and then joy will come suddenly, in the morning.

How long is that night going to be? I don’t know. But do you know anyone else you would rather spend the night with than your Heavenly Father who loves you?

And before we leave that verse, let’s read it in its entirety:

Psalm 30:5 (NASB) For His anger is but for a moment, His favor is for a lifetime; weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.

Several times in Jesus’ ministry, people came to Him to ask Him a question, and Jesus’ reply was nothing like what they were expecting. Instead, the reply challenged the worldview of the person asking the question, revealing a hidden presupposition, or a failing they did not want to face. The question was returned to the questioner, demanding an answer from them.

How could it be otherwise when dealing with the one of whom it was prophesied (by Simeon, to Mary, Jesus’ mother):

Luke 2:34-35 … Lo, this [child] is set for the fall and rising up of many in Israel, and for a sign spoken against; (and even a sword shall go through thine own soul;) so that [the] thoughts may be revealed from many hearts.

I understand how those people who met Jesus felt: Psalm 30:5 gives me an uncomfortable answer to any attempt I might make at asking why I must go through this night of weeping. It is telling me to look back at my life: How much of this heartache is my fault?

Facing that truth could be more than I want to bear. But the good news is stated immediately: His favor lasts a lifetime. He is more than able to forgive me because He loves me.

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