Worldviews, Greek Mythology, and Job

I always enjoy when two or three ideas converge to reveal a perspective I had not previously considered.  It is why I tend to read a couple books at a time, often on very different topics.  I just finished reading a book – The Powers That Be – on which I previously shared my thoughts.  One of the ideas that I enjoyed the most was Wink’s breakdown of worldviews.  To summarize:

  • The Ancient Worldview held that everything earthly has its heavenly counterpart and every spiritual reality has physical consequenses.
  • The Materialist Worldview claims that there is no spiritual world, only reason and what can be known through the five senses.
  • The Spiritualist Worldview simply holds that spirit is good and matter is evil.  Gnosticism arises out of this worldview.
  • The Theological Worldview acknowledges both a spiritual world and a material world, but compartmentalize the two, allowing only minimal interaction between them.

From here Wink argues for an Integral Worldview, where it is acknowledged that the spiritual and the material realm interact and what happens in one can affect the other.  Ironically, it seems to me that many Christians unwittingly still hold to the Ancient (fatalistic pre determinism), Spiritualist (the material world doesn’t matter), or Theological (there is a heaven, but it has little bearing on what is happening on earth) worldview.

This brief summary of worldviews helped me greatly as I picked up a book on Greek mythology.  I am only moderately aware of the more well-known Greek gods and the stories behind them.  But reading these stories armed with a better understanding of the ancient worldview has placed Greek mythology in an entirely new setting for me.  These stories are an attempt to make sense of what was happening in the material realm by positing what must have been taking place in the spiritual realm, since the spiritual realm was the real impetus behind temporal events.  Thus when a battle was won or lost, or an empire or individual rose to power, this was only a manifestation of what was happening among the gods.  It was fate!

All this brings me to my reading of the biblical book of Job.  I have read Job many times and it is always a challenge to know where this book fits theologically.  Is it fiction?  Is it a parable?  Is it describing actual events?  Any commentary on Job will wrestle with these questions.  But armed with a fresh perspective on worldviews, I am now convinced that Job falls in the genre of ancient mythology.  Now before anyone gets too fired up, please understand: mythology does not mean that the story being told is a fictional story.  It was long held that the stories of the Trojan wars never really took place until discoveries confirmed that they were actually grounded in real events.  So it can be said that Job took actual events and, through the lens of the ancient worldview, tried to make sense of what must have been driving these events in the spiritual realm.

Which makes the person of Job all the more remarkable.  It is often pointed out that Job was challenging the predominant perspective of his day that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.  This is why Job’s friends throughout the book insist that, given the calamities that befall Job, he must have done something wrong.  But I believe that Job was also challenging a much deeper held belief grounded in the ancient worldview: that what was happening to him was being driven by events in the spiritual realm and that it was pointless for him to fight them.  It was fate!  It is at this point that Job does the unthinkable.  Job not only believes that he can argue his case before God, upending the notion that bad things happen to bad people, but that in doing so he can actually intervene in the spiritual realm, bucking the notion of fate.  And it is here that his friends are utterly incensed at Job’s words.

It could be read that in the end God condemns Job for asking for his day in court, but I don’t believe that is what takes place.  In the end it is Job’s friends that are soundly rebuked, while Job is the one interacting with the Almighty.  And in the end, he is rewarded for it.

What I’m Reading: Letters By A Modern Mystic

Letters By A Modern MysticWhile reading another book by Dallas Willard, I ran across a reference to this book by Frank Laubach.  Laubach was a missionary to the Philippines in the 1930s and this book is a collection of his letters written to his father back in the States.  In his letters Laubach describes his attempt at a rather simple, but daunting experiment: to – quite literally – bring God to mind every minute of every day.

I was personally intrigued by the contrast of this experiment.  On one hand it is the simplest of concepts; on the other it is a virtual impossibility, much like the biblical command to “Be perfect, as I am perfect.”  Sure, no problem!  Several of Laubach’s comments struck me.

Concentration is merely the continuous return to the same problem from a million angles.  We do not think of one thing.  We always think of the relationship of at least two things, and more often of three or more simultaneously.  So my problem is this: can I bring God back in my mind-flow every few seconds so that God shall always be in my mind as an after image, shall always be one of the elements in every concept and percept?  I choose to make the rest of my life an experiment in answering this question.

This is something that Dallas Willard refers to and I believe it is a sizable hurdle to overcome in following Jesus.  It is the realization that we do not think about only one thing at a time, but usually we are thinking of multiple things at once.  Go ahead – record your thoughts over the next five minutes.  When we realize this, we can overcome the common objection that we cannot think about God … and work … and watch TV … and get the kids ready for bed.   Accepting that we can – and do – recall multiple things to mind each and every minute allows us to simply make God one of those reoccurring thoughts.

The most wonderful discovery that has ever come to me is that I do not have to wait until some future time for the glorious hour.

This sentiment is one that I desperately want to believe: that we need not wait for heaven to experience God’s kingdom.  It has been my own experiment over the last five years and it has proven both challenging and elusive.  But I believe it is possible.  It is here that Laubach offers another small discipline in living out this reality.

This experiment which I am trying is the most strenuous discipline which anyone ever attempted.  I am not succeeding in keeping God in my mind very many hours of the day, and from the point of view of experiment number one, I should have to record a pretty high percentage of failure.

One of the things I appreciated most about this little book was Laubach’s honesty about his own struggles and failures at this experiment.  I admit that I haven’t fully immersed myself in this particular experiment, but I have been more aware of my thoughts and what a daunting challenge this actually becomes to live out.  Yet with each failure, Laubach reminds us that each minute brings the opportunity to start fresh again.  And isn’t that what grace is all about?

Last week was a very busy week at work.  As I write this, I am reminded of how elusive it can be to keep God in my thoughts each day, let alone each hour, each minute.  But I am also reminded of Laubach’s own conclusion:  “Can it be done?  Hardly.  Does the effort help?  Tremendously!”