Two Worlds 

Blogging has a way of bringing people together who never would have met otherwise. I've already noted elsewhere that it has been satisfying to meet people in blogs who share an interest in thinking deeply; it's a group not often found outside the universities.

Another connection that happens here is engagement between people with near-opposite viewpoints on life. We don't tend to run in the same circles in our work and social lives, so this is unique in many ways, and very stimulating. It's giving me new perspective, too, on the so-called "culture wars." I think we've chosen the wrong metaphor. It's not so much a war between cultures as it is the fact of two vastly different worlds inhabiting the same planet. 

There is a world of those who believe in God as creator of the universe and all life; the sovereign, merciful ruler; the source of all goodness and beauty; the ground of all truth, including moral truth; the One revealed in Scripture and made manifest through Jesus Christ, who lived, died and rose again; the One on whom we depend for rescue from death due to our own rebellion from him; the one who gives life to those who accept it. This world accepts what it means to be a Christian, as LaShawn Barber eloquently summarized it.

What is the second world? It's not necessarily easy for us to draw a line. There are people in various stages of a journey, believing some things, questioning others. It is said that there are two groups of people in the world: those who divide the world into two groups of people, and those who don't. You can puzzle out which of those I fall into if I affirm that last sentence--but my point for this blog is not that there are only two groups of people as regards belief in the Christian message.*

Yet if there is a spectrum of belief, clearly there are opposite poles on that spectrum, and they are certainly in conflict. This was brought home to me yesterday by a treatise by Barbara Forrest, who testified last week at the Intelligent Design trial in Dover, PA. She is an active atheist; she argues in her paper for "philosophical materialism," which she makes explicitly equivalent to atheism. She's a board member of the New Orleans Secular Humanist Association, and certainly a member of the opposite pole of belief from Christianity.

I'm not going to respond to specifics in her paper until I've read an accompanying one for the sake of better understanding, yet I have this general impression to offer. She lives in a different world than I do. Her logic leads in directions that make no sense to me; I cannot fathom why she would take the argument where she does. When I get opportunity to write a response here, I hope to show that any thinking person should see it the same way, but for the sake of this post, it's enough to say that we are worlds apart.

A similar distance separates people on opposing sides of other current controversies: abortion, homosexual rights, atheistic evolutionism, public morality, stem cell research, capital punishment, and so on. Not every controversy can be cleanly characterized according to this two-worlds view (environmentalism, the war in Iraq, economic issues, and racial issues, for example), but some of the hottest ones do. Above all, the religion question itself--like the fear that some express (irrationally, in my opinion) that the U.S. is heading toward a rigid theocracy--demonstrates the divide of which I speak.

The Bible is certainly realistic about this. Jesus said, "If the world hates you, you know that it hated me before it hated you" (from John 15:18-25). This was not paranoia speaking. Jesus stood against the order of the day and was killed for it.

Those who follow Jesus still stand against the familiar world order, often called simply "the world" in the New Testament:

- The world says to get ahead; Jesus said, "If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last and servant of all."

- The world says to get what you can get; Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."

- The world says to get even; Jesus said, "For if you forgive men their trespasses [sins, offenses], your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."

- The world says to hold on for dear life; Jesus said, "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it."

- The world says to run your own life; Jesus said, speaking of himself, "For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

- The world says to figure things out for ourselves; Jesus said to rely on the Scriptures as the very seed of life.

- The world says we are self-sufficient; Jesus said, "Unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."

- The world says all paths lead to the same end; Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."

We see here two systems, diametrically opposed to each other in their most fundamental values. In the passage above where Jesus speaks of being hated by the world, it is because in him the sin of the world stands exposed.

Is it any wonder, then, that we don't always agree here in our comments? Is it surprising that explanations of Biblical thinking sometimes must run lengthy? Is it any wonder that I have trouble agreeing with an atheist like Barbara Forrest? We come from such different places. For her, considering the possibility of a supernatural and sovereign creator is strange, probably even repulsive. For me, the thought of a cosmos barren of such a loving creative source runs counter to what I know and have long experienced to be true.

(Let me interject here, for reasons of pure emotion yet supported by what I know to be true, that the God I have known in this way is so deeply wonderful and satisfying, I must pause to give him praise and worship. There is such an incredible joy in following him! Those of the other world, who look sideways at God for fear of being controlled or dominated--I only wish you could know what freedom and lightness there is in such service!)

Obviously the great question is, which (if either) of these worlds has it right? I leave this blog entry with a last thought, which is that the test is which one makes the most sense as a complete system. If I am right--and I'm betting my life on it--then the Biblical viewpoint squarely stands the test of being consistent with its own teachings and with what we know to be true of life and of ourselves.

Oh, and one more (really) final point: I just want to reiterate that I appreciate the encounters I've had here with people in both worlds.

*I do believe there is a definite, though often invisible, line between those who have accepted invitation into God's family and those who have not, but that's a different topic. The middle ground I'm speaking of here is persons who believe some but not all of the propositional truths of Christianity. Even those of us who believe in Christ do not consistently live out the radical life he calls us to.

Posted: Mon - October 17, 2005 at 06:09 AM           |

© 2004-2007 by Tom Gilson. Permission is granted to quote up to two paragraphs of any blog entry, provided that a link back to the original is included or (in print) the website address is provided. Please email me regarding longer quotes. All other rights reserved.

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