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Thinking World-Viewishly

Everyone, whether they care to admit it or not, has a world view; a set of presuppositions about the nature of reality, that has profound effects on the way they think.

Behind a rabid 'rights for gay whales' campaigner may be the beliefs that:

  1. God doesn't exist
  2. Death is the end
  3. Humans are just clever monkeys
  4. Morality is what we choose it to be

If we see human beings simply as the product of a blind random process in a godless universe, and moral beliefs as arbitrary then we may conclude that humans are no more important than animals. We might also come to believe that human beings without our own capacity for rationality or relationship are less worthy of life. We might therefore see no problem eugenics, selective abortion and involuntary euthanasia.

Our underlying beliefs have a profound effect on the opinions we hold.

There are three main types of world view; atheistic, pantheistic and theistic - and although it is dangerous to generalise about individuals, the belief systems might be summarised as follows:

Atheist Pantheist Theist
God Doesn't exist An impersonal force A personal being
Moral good Arbitrary What's natural God's nature
Life after death None Reincarnation Judgement and Heaven/Hell
Human beings Clever monkeys Part of the totality of being Beings in God's image
Truth Discovered by science Subjective Revealed by God
% of med students 65% 5% 30%

The three world views described above are mutually inconsistent; they cannot all be true. In fact all non-Christian world views are at odds with the way things really are, and this means that they will be under tension. We need to learn how (sensitively) to display that tension so that people are challenged to think again.

But we also need to be sure that we are 'thinking Christianly' in coming to our own opinions about issues. We need to develop a Christian worldview, having always at the front of our minds the four great threads of the Christian 'meta-narrative':

  • Creation - How was it?
  • Fall - How is it?
  • Redemption - What is God doing to change things?
  • Consummation - How will it be?

Human beings have been created in God's image for relationship with him but we are fallen, 'flawed masterpieces' damaged by the effects of sin. God has intervened in human history to restore us to himself (redemption) and we are moving ever closer to the Day of Judgement (consummation) when he will put everything right. We should live in the light of these truths and they should govern the way we approach any problem that the world brings up.

For example we can think about medicine itself 'Christianly'. We begin by thinking of health as the good gift of a good creator, a blessing of providence over which we have some control. Secondly as a result of the fall we recognise that disease has entered the world but that God in his grace has revealed principles of prevention and cure that can to some extent ameliorate it. Thirdly, the gospel offers forgiveness, and the will and compassion to work with God to relieve spiritual and physical suffering. Finally Jesus has revealed that in the new world we will possess resurrected non-decaying bodies (1 Cor 15:35-54; 2 Cor 5:1-10) and that there will be no more death or crying or pain (Rev 21:1-4)

Thomas Sydenham, who was a devout Christian and known by many as 'the Father of English medicine' outlines for us something of what this means in a lecture to medical students in 1668.

Whoever applies himself to medicine should seriously weigh the following considerations: First that he will one day have to render an account to the Supreme Judge of the lives of sick people entrusted to his care. Next, by whatever skill or knowledge he may, by the divine favour become possessed of, should be devoted above all things to the glory of God and the welfare of the human race. Thirdly he must remember that it is no mean or ignoble creature that he deals with. We may ascertain the worth of the human race since for its sake God's only begotten Son became man and thereby ennobled the nature that he took upon him. Finally, the physician should bear in mind that he himself is not exempt from the common lot but is subject to the same laws of mortality and disease as his fellows and he will care for the sick with more diligence and tenderness if he remembers that he himself is their fellow sufferer.

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