This sermon is part of the sermon series "Piecing Together the Puzzle of Life". See series.
Imagine a report comes on the television that a terrible tragedy has just befallen a group of people beyond your town. Person "A" sees the report, sighs, and changes the channel. Person "B" watches the same news item, groans, and resolves to start gathering groceries or to write a check to do something to help. How do we account for the different response? Is it simply genetics? Is it simply personality? If you were with us last week, you will know that I believe it has something to do with each person's worldview.
A worldview is the complex of ideas that a person holds about themselves, about other people, and about the nature of life itself. Someone who believes, for example, that it is wisest to treat their neighbor as they want to be treated, will naturally feel and act differently in the face of the misfortunes of others than someone who thinks that everybody has their own problems and wisdom means taking care of yourself.
Ideas, therefore, have consequences. The ideas you hold about the worth of people, the nature of justice, the role of government and so forth are all like pieces of a puzzle you put together to form a lens through which you view and respond to life. Connect the worldviews of a large group of us and you have what we call a "culture." Stretch that culture out over time and across the land and you have what we call a "civilization." Trace the outworking of the dominant worldviews of various civilizations and you have what we call "history." More than by tidal waves, hurricanes, acts of terror, or conquest, history is the child of ideas.
The question I want to weigh in on today is this: How do you know which worldview to go with? Can we really say that any set of ideas are better or hold more weight than another? Is there any configuration of the puzzle pieces—any worldview—that can be said to be a more reliable picture of reality than another? Increasingly, we're told that you can't know the truth. Everything you hear is just somebody's selfish point of view. The history you've read isn't fact, but simply the story the victors wrote to justify their side of the story. Journalism, some say, no longer reveals what really happened at the scene. Reporters are so ideologically-driven now that they spin the facts as much as the politicians. There is something to all of this, of course. But the end result is to leave many people with the notion that Reality with a capital "R" can't be known, that all truth is relative, all religious systems essentially of equal value, and faith mainly a private matter.
We are living in a modern Greek tragedy
The first-century Greeks lived at a time in history like this. Ironically, they had been the civilization that pioneered the quest for higher truth, for the supreme worldview. Their great philosophers and scientists, people like Plato and Aristotle and Socrates, had made their life's mission trying to discern the nature of ultimate reality. They believed that if that Reality could be known, then we would understand the personal values and social structures toward which human beings ought to aspire—the ones that would make life work in the way it should.
By the time the apostle Paul went to Athens, however, Greece had become what anthropologists call a "late-stage civilization." What had once been a world-shaping intellectual life, rigorously dedicated to finding a unified theory of all things, had now devolved into a shopping mall of shallow ideas and amusements.
The grand search for what the leading lights of ancient Greece had called the divine Logos—the great Mind and Truth at the root of all life—had been replaced by a trivial devotion to a thousand little logos. On almost every block of Athens someone had erected a statue or shrine to their own designer deity, their own version of personal truth. Summing this up, an old proverb quipped that "Athens has more gods than men." The gods were novelty, celebrity, and controversy—lords of a life preoccupied by the margins because it had lost its center.
It can look that way around America at times. Our little logos are everywhere—Abercrombie, Nike, so many symbols of the lifestyle divine toward which many aspire. By the millions, we gather around television shows focused on the quest to become America's next top model or one-hit-wonder superstar. We watch others confront their fear factor or struggling to be the survivor in some Donald Trumped up contest of power and greed. People tune in to hear what Tommy Lee or Paris Hilton have to tell us about life and look to Martha for wisdom about the way we should be. And to this latter-day Greek tragedy we give the name "RealityShows."
There is something new under the sun.
Long ago, the writer of the biblical book of Ecclesiastes had this to say about the civilization in which he was living: "The eye never has enough of seeing, nor the ear its fill of hearing … Whoever loves money never has money enough … All man's efforts are for his mouth, yet his appetite is never satisfied … The more the words, the less the meaning … There is no remembrance of men of old … What has been done will be done again … a chasing after the wind … utterly meaningless, everything is meaningless … and there is nothing new under the sun."
Is this all there is? Is this the only reality our children can look forward to having, because we can no longer conceive of a higher Reality? Will it be for us as it was in Israel, as it was in Greece, as the poet T.S. Eliot feared as he framed this epitaph over America: "And the wind shall say: 'Here were decent godless people \ Their only monument the asphalt road \ And a thousand lost golf balls." Is this our final reality?
I think not. And I'll tell you one reason I have hope. I see evidence that some people today are reaching out for a bigger picture of life, for a better set of ideas and, ironically, even Hollywood is starting to pick up on it. Maybe you've watched an episode of Joan of Arcadia, a TV program about a high school girl whom God regularly visits in various guises to speak a message of guidance, challenge, or hope.
Or perhaps you've seen the film, The Truman Show, in which Jim Carrey plays the part of a man who discovers that above his day-to-day life is a cloud of witnesses and a powerful Father eager to see how he gets on. Maybe you've seen Bruce Almighty, where Carrey is given a God's-eye view of the struggles of this world and comes to see how truly loving people may require refusing to take all their pains away, even when you could.
In the movie, Fallen, Denzel Washington plays a detective who comes to believe that the only way to explain the amount of evil he is meeting in ordinary people is that a supernatural plane exists that intersects ours. In the Matrix films, Keanu Reeves plays a man named Neo to whom a prophet comes and wakes him to the truth that a vast battle for the survival of true humanity is raging beneath the surface of what he has mistakenly taken for ordinary life. To save the world will require that someone with great power chooses to lay down his life.
We know the real story.
Do you hear any familiar themes in any of these stories? Do you hear the idea that the world we see and touch is not all there is? Do you hear the idea that there is Someone above and beyond us who so deeply cares what becomes of us that he seeks to speak to us? Do you hear the idea that it is possible for Someone to love us so much that he allows us to experience the pains we fear will break us, knowing that they can help to make us? Do you hear the idea that there is a supernatural evil at work in this world that explains some of the horror and suffering we meet? Do you hear the idea that when great Love is willing to lay down its life for the sake of others, a new world can be born? Do you hear the echoes of a familiar worldview?
I do. Let me stress that I don't recommend movies as the source of our theology. But what I can't help but notice is that some of the ancient ideas that form a biblical worldview, the pieces of a puzzle long forgotten by many people, are starting to capture the popular imagination again. And for good reason. Francis Schaeffer once wrote: "The truth of Christianity is that it is true to what is there." For me, no other set of ideas than those that Jesus reveals in his Word makes better sense of the reality of life as I have encountered it.
What Jesus tells me about the Creation explains the brilliant design I meet in the natural order. What He says about the reality of sin and evil makes sense of the distortions I meet in myself and in the dark realities of the world around us today. What Jesus says about the reality of grace explains those experiences where a good I do not deserve and could not compel came upon me anyway. What Jesus tells me about the reality of providence helps account for the pattern of meaning and purpose I've seen emerging from the events of my life.
What He says about the reality of Love's great power explains why history remembers the humble servants more than the haughty caesars. What Jesus says about God's vision of justice and the worth of human life does more to describe the problems we face and the glorious possibilities before us than any other system of thought I've found.
I could go on, and I will in weeks to come, but let me leave it at this: If you can offer to me a worldview which makes better sense of the totality and potentiality of life than that which flows from the pages of Scripture, please help me discover it so I can discard this lesser gospel. But if you have been searching for an unknown means of piecing together the puzzle of life then with the apostle Paul I say, this Way, this Truth, this Life you've been seeking is Jesus, and I proclaim Him to you.
Dan Meyer is pastor of Christ Church.us, a nondenominational, multisite church with locations in Oak Brook and Lombard, Illinois.