Freedom to be Independent: Our Western Worldview
We live with a Western worldview, while Scripture was written to people with an Eastern worldview. Maybe this is the first time you have heard something like this? Maybe not! Readers could get the feeling from this statement that the Western worldview is something to be scrapped because it is not the correct worldview, which was used by Scripture and by extension by God. This would be a wrongheaded conclusion. It is not that the Western worldview is incorrect and the Eastern worldview is correct or vice versa. They are simply different and we should recognize that. We should be aware that God decided to reveal the way he acts for his children to an Eastern mindset. Therefore, for us to come to grips with how he acts, it is imperative that we begin to understand the mindset of those to which he first revealed his words and works and then translate that understanding into our present Western culture.
It is true that the Western mindset will often cause us to respond to life in a way different than the Eastern mindset would have ever dreamed of responding. Remember, two-thirds of the world think differently than we do in the Western world today. That’s not right or wrong, just different.
Different Mindsets Respond
Simply, our worldview is the way we view the world in which we live. We all have a worldview; it is embedded in the very pores of our being. It is our own personal collection of beliefs about life. When faced with this concept, some folks may ask:
- What is a worldview?
- Do I have a worldview?
- Is it a valid one?
- Am I trapped into keeping what I have or can I change?
James Sire, in his book, The Universe Next Door, says, “A worldview is a set of presuppositions (or assumptions), which we hold (consciously or subconsciously) about the basic makeup of our world.”[ref]James W. Sire, The Universe Next Door (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1976), 17.[/ref] Charles Kraft, in his book, Christianity in Culture, provides a more technical definition:
Cultures pattern perceptions of reality into conceptualizations of what reality can or should be, what is to be regarded as actual, probable, possible or impossible. These conceptualizations form what is termed the ‘worldview’ of our culture. The worldview is the central systematization of conceptions of reality to which the members of its culture assent (largely unconsciously) and from which stems their value system. The worldview lies at the very heart of the culture, touching, interacting with, and strongly influencing every aspect of the culture.[ref][/ref]
Different cultures have different worldviews, which cause people who are impregnated with that worldview to think, reflect, and act differently. Worldviews are not only different between large sections of the world, but within the same culture where there are many sub-cultures. As an example, when I was stationed in the US Air Force in Hawaii, my then future father-in-law was aghast that in conversation I referred to my dad as “the old man.” His Southern California culture augmented by his time in Hawaii with many Asian nationalities heard that as an insult when in the neck of the woods I grew up in it was a “term of endearment.”
Here are some other illustrations:
- When the missionaries in the northern Congo required the native women to wear blouses to cover their breasts, they were met with opposition by the elders of the church. These elders responded that they were not going to have their wives dress like prostitutes. In that part of the Congo at that time, the fully dressed African women were often prostitutes because they could afford clothes to wear.[ref]Charles H. Kraft, Christianity in Culture (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1979), 53.[/ref]
- A missionary in the Philippines became upset when his first guests dusted off their chairs and then sat on their handkerchiefs. Later, when they sat down to eat, the guests took the napkins and wiped off the dishes and silverware. The missionary was disgusted because, in his mind, this was an insult to his wife’s housekeeping. He soon learned that this was culturally accepted behavior.[ref]Ibid.[/ref]
- Each culture has a different set of values which is recognized as successful. In the United States of America in the ‘60-’70s of last century, Lee Iacocca was recognized as a business success by creating the phenomenal Ford Mustang and as the head of Chrysler bringing that company back from the financial brink. He became a national celebrity who wrote a bestselling autobiography, Iacocca.[ref]Lee Iacocca, Iacocca (New York, NY: Bantam Books, 1985).[/ref] Americans approved of his success by trying to imitate him. Other more recent successful folks could include Bill Gates of Microsoft, Mark Zukerberg of Facebook, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, and Evan Williams and Biz Stone of Twitter.
- In China, a scholar is recognized as being successful while in America the scholar is often seen as a nerd.
- In India, the philosopher ascetic is embraced as successful and many people endeavor to follow such a person, while in America, this kind of a person is viewed as an odd-duck.
- It is as simple as understanding that different cultures select different things to value. That can be illustrated by watching people eat breakfast. Some like their eggs fried, others desire them to be scrambled, while others may not like eggs in any fashion! A national delicacy in the Philippines is the balut. This is an egg that has been incubated by the mother hen for ten days and then boiled, cracked, and eaten. For many of us, that is a disgusting thought. Who wants to eat a half-formed baby chick? Some folks!
- In Confessions of a Conservative Evangelical, the late Jack Rogers (d. 2018) tells a story about his stay in Egypt during the six-day war in 1967. In some ways, the modern Egyptians are much like the ancient Hebrews. During this heated time, an Arab general roared that he was sending 500 tanks into the Sinai desert. Both the people of Egypt and Israel knew that he did not have 50 tanks much less 500 tanks. To the Semite mindset, numbers are often meant to signify quality versus quantity.[ref]Jack Rogers, Confessions of a Conservative Evangelical. 2nd Edition (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 31.[/ref]
These illustrations should point out to us that others are different from us. The issue is not a matter of right or wrong, divine or not divine, just different.
What does all this mean? How does all this apply to googling God’s will? Think about this possibility. One of the selected values that our Western culture has decided to hold is that of individualism. We think our need is to be independent. We must realize that this is a selected value by our culture that might need to be altered when it begins to block our ability to follow God.
Most of the questions that we posed above were about personal guidance. It has been suggested that there are two basic dynamic drives, an Enlightenment reductionism for sure, which provide our motivation for existence. It’s what makes us tick.
Biological. This drive is twofold: The need for food (and drink) and sex. One cannot exist without nourishment and the human race cannot be perpetuated without sex.
Psychological. The sense of belonging to a family and a desire for recognition within that family are the primary psychological drives.
If this is correct, the psychological drive to belong to a family is in direct opposition to the selected cultural value of individualism, which we hold as an inalienable right.
Scripture, on the other hand, seems to hold out for us an alternative to the cultural selected value of individualism. It’s called community. While the individual is not unimportant, he or she has a different importance when understood within a community. An individual does not lose value, but gains value within a functioning community. Think of your body as a community of individual parts that cannot get along without each other, but gain great value when working with each other.
When it comes to God’s will, we are often looking for answers in all the wrong places. We want to know what God’s will is for our individual life! What we often get as an answer by our teachers is a bandage, but the sore never heals, because we have never treated the root cause of our problem. God appears to act and guide from a community base more than an individual base. We will continue to develop this thought as we proceed. Suffice it to say, community forms a different paradigm for God’s will than individualism. Therefore, we may need to call our selected cultural worldview into question, see if it is valid, and look for an appropriate alternative, if it is not.
God’s Willingness to Guide
God’s willingness to guide can be explained with many illustrations from Scripture, especially the Old Testament. Let me offer two:
From the beginning of Scripture, God is viewed as a God who speaks — one who communicates. And God said … are some of the favorite words of the author of Genesis chapter one, who understood God as one who speaks and communicates. This is further demonstrated in the second story of creation in Genesis chapter 2 where God was moving around the garden and speaking to his creation. Simply put, God desires to speak to his children and give them direction as a loving parent. In the Exodus story of Act 3,[ref]Ibid., 107-168.[/ref] God spoke to Moses to build a tabernacle for God’s visible residence on earth. “And let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst. According to all that I show you concerning the pattern of the tabernacle, and of all its furniture, so you shall make it” (Ex 25.8-9, RSV).
While many things have been made of this passage, it seems that one thing is clear. We must remember that the ancient Hebrews thought in word pictures and this is what God is providing for them here. God desired to live in the midst of his family. He wished for each of the tribes to have equal access to him. He wanted to share his presence with his family. There are two things in this text that make this point clear. First, the word midst means in the middle of them. Second, the whole picture of living is sustained by the idea of furniture in the tabernacle. One of the keys to understanding God’s willingness to share his will to guide is understanding the way he functioned with his children as he led them through their wilderness experience. God’s willingness to be with his family and guide them is demonstrated by understanding his character. God speaks to and loves to share his presence with his community.
It seems that God’s will is rooted in God’s intimacy. God’s will can be as simple as understanding our need for belonging. When we belong, we bond and become intimate with others. God desired the same with his family, first Israel, and now us. From the garden of Eden to the new heavens and earth of Revelation, God’s intention for his children is to become and stay intimate with them. It may be said, then, that God’s will for us is to be intimate with him with his goal being transformation of our lives for the sake of others.