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.

7 thoughts on “Worldviews, Greek Mythology, and Job

  1. Absolutely fascinating, Dave. Great explanation and summary.

    Could you say more about Christians that still hold the Ancient, Spiritualist, or Theological views? What would a specific example of each one look like?

    • Sure, IMO the ancient worldview looks very much like the predeterminism that many hold to today. I have observed that even those who don’t hold to Calvinism still use a lot of predeterministic language. So whatever happens was God’s will; therefore there was nothing I could have done about it. This does not allow for an interplay between the heavenly and the earthly realm.

      I would equate much of the focus on going to heaven and leaving behind the earth with a spiritualist worldview. I see movement in the right direction here, but many were still raised in that environment that stressed the importance of “going to heaven when you die” instead of the coming of God’s kingdom on earth.

      The theological worldview is similar. We compartmentalize our faith so that there are our spiritual activities and there are our worldly activities. And the two have very little to do with each other. Thus, I can be very devout and pious on Sunday, but live however I want the rest of the time because one seemingly has very little to do with the other.

      This is what I was referring to above.

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  3. I am glad to hear people are reading Wink’s work. It is significant in many respects. A compilation and partial autobiography will be published posthumously late this year or in 2013. He was still working on it even as his dementia progressed. A brilliant man.

    I’d like to recommend another text that may further your questioning concerning Greek myths, human narrative, and possible origins of religion (though the author’s atheistic/empirical stance may be one you don’t agree with, he is not strident about his views but genuinely examining the reasons for story-telling–including sacred tales).

    This is Brian Boyd’s “On the Origin of Stories.” Big long book, well-researched, full of fascinating ideas.

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