Worldview is simply the way you look at the world. A worldview is like a pair of sunglasses. Once you put them on, they color the way you see everything. But once you have them on you rarely think about them.
Isn’t that kind of odd? They make everything look different, but if you’re wearing them you don’t spend much time thinking about it. Our worldviews are the same way. They are how we look at the world. But most people rarely think about their worldview glasses.
The times we do think about our worldview are a lot like when we might think about our sunglasses. If we get a smudge, or if they are sitting crooked on our nose, or if we walk into a dark room and we have difficulty seeing with them on.
In the same way, when our way of looking at the world is challenged, we might step back and begin to consider what we believe about the world.
Finding your elephant
If you think about the way you view the world — your worldview — you will discover that you have some foundational things you believe. You base everything else off of these larger things you assume to be true.
One Christian author, James Sire, explains that the foundation of a worldview is like an elephant. He tells the story of a young boy who asks his father what the earth sits on top of. Everything else in the boy’s experience has to sit on top of something, so he assumes the same is true for the earth. The father tells his inquisitive son that the earth sits on the back of a turtle.
The boy runs off satisfied to finally know the answer to his burning question. But he quickly returns to ask the obvious follow up question, “What does the turtle sit on top of?” The father tells his that the turtle sits on the back of a camel. Again, the son runs off with a smile on his face.
He then comes back quicker than before to ask the obvious follow up question to the camel answer, “What does the camel sit on top of?” The father immediately responds with the largest animal that comes to mind, an elephant. The son doesn’t run off like before, but instead stands there mulling the answer over.
“What’s the elephant standing on?” he asks his dad. “Son, it’s just elephant all the way down!” his father tells him.
We all have a worldview elephant. We all have a final stopping point for what we believe is the nature of reality, the way the world is. If you were to step back and really look at the way you see the world, you would see that your worldview is built on something big that you assume is true.
The atheist believes the world is all there is. That’s his elephant. The Christian believes God exists and that He has revealed himself. These two different ways of seeing the world are attempts at understanding what is ultimate or real. These are ways of getting at a theory that explains everything.
The mind of God
When I was in high school, the Walmart in our small town functioned like a shopping mall. It was a place to hang out. But every once in a while, we would go on an adventure. My teenage comrades and I would pile into the most reliable used vehicle owned by one of us at the time and drive 30 miles away to the state capital to visit an authentic, full-orbed, center-of-commercialism-and-materialism, real-deal shopping mall.
These irregular ventures were always a treat. Besides the expected stuff – window shopping at “The Buckle,” consuming thousands of calories at Luca’s Pizza, and in general trying to project a cool and confident exterior walking through the mall interior – I would usually spend some time sitting cross-legged on the floor in the mall’s bookstore, poring over whatever suited my adolescent pseudo–intellectual mood at the moment. I’ll never forget the time that included Stephen Hawking’s book, A Brief History of Time.
Hawking’s discussion of dark matter and dark energy provoked my attention. I acted like I understood what this brilliant scientist was talking about. I didn’t. But apparently neither did most people. The book was described as the “least-read-best-seller.”
Hawking summarizes the scientist’s desire to find a theory of everything in the closing paragraphs of the book:
If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.
This quote has stuck with me since reading it as a teenager. Of course, Hawking wasn’t being literal, he doesn’t believe in God. He’s an atheist. But his quote illustrates something powerful: to get a theory that explains everything, we would pretty much have to know the mind of God.
The Christian ‘theory of everything’
That is what Christians have the audacity to claim every time they open the Bible. They believe they are learning the mind of God, not by Hawking’s “ultimate triumph of human reason,” but through God’s gracious acts of communicating His love to us.
It is the Christian’s conviction that you cannot understand the world unless you understand the creator who made the world, the one who loved the world so much He gave his only Son, so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).
If you miss this, no matter how much you might understand about the physical world, you miss the big picture. You miss what really matters. Jesus said it this way, “What would it profit a man to gain the world and lose his soul?”
Only by knowing God can you understand reality. “The fear of the Lord,” King Solomon wrote, “is the beginning of wisdom.” Edgar Andrews, emeritus professor of materials at the University of London, seems to echo Solomon’s conviction when he explains that the idea of God is necessary for a theory that helps us make sense of the world:
A scientist’s dream is to develop a ‘theory of everything’ — a scientific theory that will encompass all the workings of the physical universe in a single self-consistent formulation. Fair enough, but there is more to the universe than matter, energy, space, and time. Most of us believe in the real existence of non-material entities such as friendship, love, beauty, poetry, truth, faith, justice and so on — the things that actually make human life worth living. A true ‘theory of everything,’ therefore, must embrace both the material and non-material aspects of the universe, and my contention is we already possess such a theory, namely, the hypothesis of God.
The Christian believes, like Professor Andrews, that knowledge of God is absolutely necessary to understand the world. And the only way to know about God, in any meaningful way that might provide insights into reality, is for God to reveal himself to His creation. We are completely dependent upon God to explain himself and our world so we might understand both ourselves and our place in His creation.
Our view of the sun
I began by saying that a worldview is like a pair of sunglasses. It colors everything we see. But there is another way in which the Christian worldview is actually like the sun. It shines light on the world in a way we can understand it.
We can know the sun has risen in a couple of different ways. We can wake up to watch the sunrise. Most of us appreciate our sleep too much to do this often. Another way to know the sun has risen is to look across our bedroom and see items like clothes left on the floor or papers or books on the nightstand. In the darkness of the night, we couldn’t see them, but now, without looking at the sun, we can know the sun has risen, because of the light shining in our rooms.
That’s how the gospel works. It shines light on what it means to be human. It explains our world. Like other theories of everything, the Christian worldview is an attempt to explain everything. In addition to offering us a better and more compelling explanation of the world, Christianity has the added benefit of actually being true.
This post is taken from Standing for Truth: A Student’s Guide to Apologetics. Standing for Truth introduces students to arguments for the Bible’s reliability and God’s existence while providing outlines of how to engage the culture. Standing for Truth is published by Crossings Camps in Louisville, KY. Visit gocrossings.org to learn more about Crossings gospel-intensive camps that are packed with unforgettable fun. A free PDF download of Standing for Truth is available at gocrossings.org/s4tbook.