Isn’t it really strange when you look at a person you have known for years up close and start to notice freckles? Or when you think you cleaned a dish really well, but look closer to realize that there are little flecks of gunk all over the place. The older that I get, the worse my vision gets (I blame the computer monitor), and the less I notice the finer details. I can’t count the number of times I have reviewed building drawings and failed to notice some small, incorrect detail. A “3” is accidentally replaced with an “8,” or an arrow is pointing to a location one-eighth of an inch from where it should be. I hand it to someone else, and immediately they notice the spots I missed; all of the little mistakes within, but outside of, my vision. Sometimes I have to get my nose right up to the paper before I notice.
I wonder how people first reacted to the works of Georges Suerat? All of those little dots of color trying to make up a greater whole. Pointillism. From a distance, the painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of Le Grande Jette” is very clear. But the closer you get, the more the painting gets fuzzy. All of those little spots, the imperfect parts that make up the whole.
I started to think about how I view the world. Do I look at it like I view this painting? Most of us, I believe, think that the perspective of our own mind is the most correct worldview for the moment we are living in. Though that worldview lens is more or less changeable, at any given moment it appears firm and established. It is a whole from which we choose to act, deriving our choices out of a predetermined greater picture. We form this picture through years of experience and experimentation. Portions of the picture are developed by, or even defined by, the collective human experience we encounter – whether that is media, family, history, religion, society, or government. Some parts are intimately personal. Like that Georges Seurat painting.
Our contemporary American society embraces the idea of relativism as a worldview. I think of relativism as a switch from an “either-or” thought process, to an “either-and.” In essence, every decision or conclusion is contingent on, or relative to, the specific situation. On paper the concept of relativism should allow the American people to be even more inclusive, to show no preference to any worldview because it could be correct depending on the situation. To be honest, though, I don’t believe that relativism affords such altruism. Americans are individualists and relativists, as in, I set my own path and whatever I choose to make it – I am right and, because there are no absolutes, you cannot tell me otherwise.
In our contemporary Christian thinking, we are the same. Though relativism is an inherent contradiction to our Christian philosophy, namely, that Jesus Christ is the only way by which a person can have restored relationship with God, we embrace being selfish. Following Christ transforms and re-colors the entire painting of our worldview, yet it does not automatically fix our worldview in stone. But we act like it does.
How often along the way, though, do we reach a point of revelation – realizing that we were wrong, understanding that there is so much more? I believe that to be a true follower of Christ you need to be able to grow and change, to be teachable; otherwise your relationship with Christ becomes a relationship with yourself and your own ideas.
In the last few months, many in the online Christian community have taken steps to express our views to one another. A debate that began about a book became about the fundamental differences in the worldviews of today’s followers of Christ. Words like “orthodoxy” started to come back into use. We had to come to this conclusion; we were not united or uniform, and everyone would not agree about who we are supposed to be. During this “dialogue,” individuals clung to their own fixed worldviews, defending them with cleverness, creativity, and often, a lack of civility.
I think that we as a church have gone wrong. Our reaction to the culture around us (that of relativism) has turned into a counter-cultural response that shuts down our ability to learn or to offer grace. We don’t think we should repent or ask for forgiveness because it is our society that is wrong. And since we know that our society is wrong, we must be right.
I believe that, no matter how right we think we are, our worldview “painting” is just a series of spots. Our thoughts and ideas make up those dots, but most are not precise. What if we stood before the majesty and might of our God, and let Him examine the painting that we have made? Do we really think He won’t see where we are just plain-old wrong? If we cannot fathom the greatness of our God, nor have His thoughts (since they are not like our own), how did we get to the place where we affirm our personal views as absolutely correct? Perhaps I am giving myself away by falling into one of the already created labels, but I just don’t understand how sinful pride can be ignored when it comes to spiritual matters.
As followers of Jesus, we have our worldview rooted and anchored in Him and transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit. But, like the pointillist painting, we still cannot see things clearly defined. From a distance we have a clear picture, but up close, we still have a series of dots that aren’t distinct. If you think that you have it all together, you especially don’t. Our new worldview is completely held together by God, by faith, by trust, and by relationship.
When I come to a place that I am facing off with God, I lose every time. When I come to a place where I am facing off with my fellow Christians, we often cannot see God, and we both lose.
The next time I want to get upset or argue in response to a “heated issue,” I am going to do something completely different: I am going to listen. I am going to make a friend. I am going to act like a servant. I am going to learn. I am going to be rather than to impose. I am going to wait. I am going to choose to see the redemptive work of Christ and encourage it. I am going to realize that the sin I see in others is often my recognition of my own sin.
When it gets to the finer points, I am going to admit that my God is mighty, and I will step back and see it. After all, the best that I can be is just a man following hard after Him.