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What is Greatness?

Posted on: January 22, 2017

Category: Theology

What is Greatness?

What is greatness?

The writers of the Bible, just like us, struggled to determine the greatness of human beings and nations. Sometimes the images and metaphors used were inspiring, and sometimes they were terrifying. The difference depended on the writer's worldview.

On an academic level, theology is the study of religious doctrines, but on a popular level theology is a worldview. A worldview identifies the assumptions individuals or groups hold when interpreting the world. To say that theology is a worldview is to say that theology is a way of interpreting the world.

Worldviews account for our political opinions, they give meaning to our lives, and they identify us within groups. To understand theology as a worldview is to understand that theology is the way individuals or groups make sense of life. Even to be an atheist is to hold a certain "theology," that is, a certain way of making sense of life. In academic theology a worldview is also called a myth because it is the story (myth means story) about how we make sense of life.

Every nation has a story, which means every nation has a myth or worldview; individuals, like nations, also have stories or myths they live by. Here then is the most important point: chose your myth wisely. Myths make a big difference in reality. People or nations with the most power have the ability to determine the most influential myth, and people or nations with little power suffer under the myths of the powerful. Theology, understood as the art of myth-making, makes a big difference. To change one's theology is to change one's worldview, which means to adopt a new myth.

In the Bible, different worldviews account for different theologies. The book of Micah calls for swords to be beaten into ploughshares. Micah is a book that holds an international worldview and that thinks peace is the purpose of religion. But in Ezekiel (chapter 25) there is a litany of pronouncements against foreign nations. The worldview in Ezekiel is set on revenge, and religion is about getting even. In the Gospel of Matthew there are two Jesuses. One is the Jesus of peace who says that the poor are God's priority and proclaims "love your enemies." But the other Jesus tells a parable that involves throwing infidels into hell and calls people who disagree with him vipers, hypocrites, and blind guides. The gospel writer of Matthew has a conflicted worldview that he passes along to his Jesus.

What is greatness? I submit that it involves rising above a constricted worldview to a place where other people or nations are not blamed for our problems, where peace and not revenge creates prosperity, and where these two insights rest on loving one's enemies - which means, of course, not having enemies in the first place. The Bible can inspire this alternative worldview and can help humanity form a collective vision of greatness. But if we never work to see the humanity of the Bible and its failings, we may very well never rise above the temptation to relate our God and our worldview to revenge. That would not be great.


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