I’m taking a class in Christian Worldview as part of my degree-finishing program at a Christian university. My biggest struggle in this class is not over-answering the questions.
Well, at least, that’s what I thought it was.
Until the second week, when I had to post an answer to the question,
“Where do atheism and Christianity agree and disagree on views of the origin of the universe? What difference might someone’s belief about the origin of the universe make in how that person lives his or her life?”
Having taught philosophy and worldview from the works of Francis Schaeffer and Nancy Pearcey for the past five years, I rolled up my sleeves and dove in to answer this one. “I got this,” I thought. “I totally know the answer.”
I completely forgot that the first week’s topic was an overview of how many different worldviews there are, and that a large part of that instruction was a warning to be aware that not everyone in the class was going to share my worldview. It’s a Christian university, but you don’t have to accept the Christian worldview personally in order to attend there. You just have to be okay with the fact that it will be the foundational belief underlying everything that is taught.
So as it works out, a good half of my online classmates for this class are either agnostic or atheist. And I forgot that and simply tried to get an A on my answer, because, well, I’m me and that’s what I do.
The thing is, I still stand behind my answer. I believe it is true. I just believe I could have stated it with a whole lot more grace. I answered to the effect that the difference an atheistic worldview of the origins would make is an atheist, convinced that reality is limited to what exists and is material and living strictly according to his or her stated beliefs, has no absolute reason to modify his or her behavior and deny his or her own desires for the benefit of others, other than the thought that society works better when people do this.
And then one of my classmates very graciously pointed out that I was implying that atheists are selfish people with no purpose in life. I quickly apologized and qualified that I was saying atheists have to find their purpose and reason to modify their behavior from other sources other than their atheism. A materialistic, random-inception existence doesn’t have any reason intrinsic to it to be self-sacrificing, so while atheists frequently do act selflessly, that’s more part of their instinctive humanity than something their stated worldview dictates. I also pointed out that Christians, who do have a lot in their worldview that specifically dictates selflessness, frequently act selfishly. Again, it’s not the worldview; it’s a failure to live up to it.
At any rate, I was horrified that I had come across like I was being judgmental of non-Christian worldviews. I do my best to never do that. It’s a pet peeve.
It’s something of which we Christians tend to be way too guilty, and my experience is that if you don’t give the person you’re talking to a certain level of respect for their beliefs, they stop listening to yours.
Because of this, I’ve been trying very hard to state my comments without using Christianese but to state things in plain language that anyone can understand.
But I forgot to also check that my underlying assumptions weren’t showing. This response drew me up short and made me check my attitude. I started understanding that this class, rather than being a feed-the-sheep Bible study environment, is actually an outreach. Since that week I have approached my required postings with a more careful consideration of my audience.
Having said that, some of the time, while I am aware of my audience and trying not to come across as a know-it-all, I’m honestly just trying to answer the question so I get the points I need to pass the class.
And then yesterday I logged in and found something that made me cry. Like, sobbing, big tears rolling down my cheeks, because I saw that something I wrote made a difference and the person came back to tell me about it.
I really appreciate your posts. I have read a couple from this week and your explanation has really made my understanding clearer. I had a hard time with the first discussion question. I have always been told the bible is an interpretation, and is different with everyone who reads it. I am not sure this is true, I was not raised religious, so have not read the bible. As an adult I have felt empty many times. My sister has been going to church for many years, and tells me I need God in my life to feel complete. After the last few weeks of this class , reading some of your posts, and now starting to have a better understanding of things. I am beginning to believe this is true. – J.L.
I say this not to toot my own horn but because I had just been putting those posts out there in an attempt to tell the truth without offending. I hadn’t even considered this part of my daily routine to be part of the ministry I felt God is calling me to the rest of the week – this was just my homework, and I would do my ministry when I finished.
As per usual, however, God’s plans are way beyond our understanding and He doesn’t have a problem with crashing through our tidy boxes of categorizing and prioritizing, so He went ahead and used me without me being aware of it.
I felt like I got caught out, in a good way, doing the right thing. Which is why this post is not about how great I am. I seriously didn’t realize I’d said anything helpful. And that’s my point. We never know when something we say is going to be that ONE thing that person needs to hear.
In fact, I responded to J.L., thanking her for sharing that and felt led to share a Bible verse in my reply. I almost didn’t because I didn’t want to come across preachy. I said:
I encourage you to keep seeking after the truth. Here’s a verse from the book of Jeremiah about that: “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (Jer 29:13 ESV) I will be praying that God will continue to reveal himself to you.
She replied, “I am not going to lie that really hit home,” and went on to elaborate some more. I had to ask myself, what if I hadn’t stepped out and said what I thought God was prompting me?
So please, if you’re the praying type, join me in praying for J.L. on her quest for the truth about God.
It’s been a humbling experience. Knowing that I did the right thing completely unaware kind of drew me up short, because what if, as I did earlier, I was so focused on my grade that I ended up doing more damage than good here by writing hard-line “truth” that offended in its assumption of superiority? It could have easily gone that way again.
It’s making my knees hit the floor every time I log on to my class. As well as wondering when else I need to be more aware of my attitude before I speak.
Like, every second of the day, actually.