How do you see the world around you? Because of our various experiences of life – including what we’ve personally experienced, what we’ve been taught and what we’ve observed, in life we all develop basic assumptions about the world around us. Those assumptions more or less provide for us a lens through which we see and interact with our world. Essentially, it is the way you view things; the way you think about them. Often people refer to the lens through which you interpret your world as your worldview.
Your worldview impacts everything you do. In the midst of a situation, you interpret the circumstance according to what you think – not based only upon what you see or hear. There is a clear example of this in Acts 14:8-20. Paul is on his first missionary journey with Barnabas in Lystra. Paul notices a crippled man not able to walk since birth. This man is healed, and he jumps and walks (vv. 8-10). The people who see this respond by proclaiming Paul and Barnabas are the gods Zeus and Hermes (vv. 11-13). Furthermore, the priest of Zeus desired to make sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. The two of them respond by tearing their clothes, running into the crowd and shouting (vv. 14-18). Their message: We are men like you. In fact, you need to turn from your idols to the living God, who is creator and blesses you with rain, fruitful season and general goodness. The people though reject their message and are barely restrained (v. 18). Eventually, the Jews arrive and Paul is stoned (vv. 19-20).
Why do the people of Lystra interpret this miracle by God through the Apostle as a miracle by the two gods Zeus and Hermes? Furthermore, why do the people get so angry when Paul and Barnabas try to reorient their interpretation of what happened? Because of the people’s worldview. They interpreted what happened through the lens of their belief system in the Greek gods. They rejected Paul and Barnabas’ effort to help them understand it because of what they “knew” to be true already.
Let me demonstrate how this works through the following diagram Paul Tripp used in class when I was his student.
Personal View of Life: Your personal view of life is the lens – your worldview. This is the way that you think about your world; the way you see things. This view of life is personal to the individual and may or may not represent good biblical thinking. For the follower of Christ, it is essential to have a functional view of life that is overtly biblical – gospel-centered, Christ-centered, God-centered, Bible-centered.
Particular Situation: This is any and every situation. When considering this diagram, you can understand the particular situation as the immediate circumstance in this instance; however, you could also choose to see the situation much broader in terms of all of life.
Interpretation: This is the sense you make out of your situation. You see the circumstance through your lens of life (i.e., your worldview) and apply meaning to it. What you think and believe impacts how you see and interpret the details of this particular instance.
View of Life Strengthened: Once you interpret your situation through your lens – which means you have given the individual details of the circumstance your own meaning – then you will find that your initial view of life is strengthened. You become more confident in your worldview because what you determined happened is what you “think” usually happens and for the “reasons” you think it usually happens.
Needs Biblical Interpretation: Anywhere a person’s view of life does not represent accurate biblical thinking, to the same degree, the interpretation of the circumstance will also be biblically inaccurate. Therefore, the interpretation of the situation needs an accurate biblical reinterpretation. The person needs to apply accurate biblical thinking to the details of the situation in order to be able to respond in a way that honors God.
How it works:
So how does this work in process? Consider the following two situations:
Jenny and Alexis
Jenny believes that her coworker Alexis does not like her (Personal View of Life). One day while at work, Jenny walks past Alexis in the workroom where Alexis continues working on her project and does not say “Hi” or smile at her (Particular Situation). Jenny notices that Alexis does not smile or speak and returns to her desk fuming with anger (Interpretation). As she continues to sit at her desk, Jenny thinks to herself, “Why did I expect her to talk with me? Of course she didn’t; I knew she didn’t like me anyway.” (View of Life Strengthened)
Jason and Rhonda
Although their nineteenth anniversary quickly approached, Rhonda believed that Jason wanted out of their marriage (Personal View of Life). With Rhonda already home with the children, Jason sent a text, “Working late – be home by 8 hopefully.” She also noticed that over the past few weeks Jason had transferred cash out of their account multiple times (Particular Situation). As she reads the text, she is crushed and figures Belinda, Jason’s attractive coworker, must have “had” to work late as well. Rhonda calls the children to the table to eat and retreats to her room in worry, despair and fear (Interpretation). While lying on her bed, Rhonda keeps asking herself, “How did I not see this coming? He has fallen in love with this woman and rather be at work with her than home with us!” (View of Life Strengthened)
So, how do we understand this better and offer help?
Both Jenny and Rhonda may understand their situations accurately or may not understand their situations at all – both in terms of accuracy and biblically. Let’s begin with Jenny’s situation. If we took time to talk with Alexis, we would learn that she had been given a project to complete before the corporate board meeting that evening. The project manager was two days late in his final approval which meant she was trying to complete three days of work in one. Her failure to smile or speak in the workroom reflected the fact that she was stressed to the max and did not even recognize Jenny had walked in or out of the workroom. She was zeroed in on the project.
What about Rhonda’s situation? These facts are true: Jason did work late, did take money out of their account, and did work with a woman coworker. When asked about it, Jason revealed that he was striving to work on their relationship and, with the anniversary approaching quickly, he had taken on an extra project or two at work to make some additional money. He had transferred money from the account – not thinking Rhonda would notice – because he was putting money aside to take her on a four-day getaway to the mountains for their anniversary.
Both Jenny and Rhonda misinterpreted their situations because of what they believed. They made assumptions about their circumstances which were consistent with their personal view of life – their lens. As a result, they were even more convinced they were right because of the circumstantial evidence. As a friend, we would encourage them both to think and act consistent with a biblical worldview instead of acting out of their own flawed perspectives.
Helpful Steps You Can Take:
Here are some steps you can take personally to evaluate what it is you believe in a particular situation. You can use these steps to help someone else respond in ways that honor God.
Questions you can ask:
1) What am I assuming? What do I not know? Where is more information needed?
2) Are my conclusions based upon what was said and what was done OR why I think something was said or done?
3) Am I operating off the false belief that I can read another person’s motives?
4) Am I thinking biblically? This could be fleshed out much more as you seek to use the Bible to help guide your thinking (Phil 4:8). Categories here include: hope, patience, perseverance, wisdom, the gospel, mercy, among many others.
Get help from others.
1) Ask the necessary people involved to help you understand the circumstance better.
2) Ask them for help with your biblical interpretation.
3) Ask them for accountability in humility as you continue to consider your interpretations.
We all experience this.
Reality is this, you could change these scenarios ten different ways: to the friend who hears of other friends who have hung out without him, to the parent whose teenager is not home on time, to the person who overhears part of a conversation, to your interpretation of a politician or political event, and on and on we could go.
Regardless, we regularly need to carefully consider what we assume in each circumstance. Where are we responding from situations and circumstances today inaccurately because we have misinterpreted other events in our past? Where are we misjudging someone’s character or motives based upon what we believe in our own heart?
May God grant us the discernment to interpret what we see and hear through the lens of mercy, love, grace, and the gospel. Where have there been places that you realized you were operating under false assumptions?