Issues of Sin and Spiritual Warfare
"Worldview" in Christian perspective implies the catastrophic effects of sin on the human heart and mind, resulting in the fabrication of idolatrous belief systems in place of God and the engagement of the human race in cosmic spiritual warfare in which the truth about reality and the meaning of life is at stake.
There is no better passage in all of Scripture that describes the noetic effects of sin than Romans ia8-32, and it contains direct implications for a Christian theory of "worldview." The text asserts that there is a natural knowledge of God available to all people, but that this revelation is summarily rejected - suppressed, to be exact - in humanity's titanic pride and rebellion. Given the resulting spiritual vacuum, the text charts the path of the human mind in its futility and darkness to construct idolatrous belief systems (essentially world-views) in the place of God. It concludes by showing how those who have replaced divine truth with substitute deities and the foolish ratiocinations of their own hearts are handed over to moral degradation as a form of judgment. For matters relating to sin and the notion of worldview, then, Romans 1:18-32 is indeed the locus classicus, a passage Karl Barth has aptly designated as "The Night."45
The apostle begins by pointing out that the anger of God is manifested in the world because of those who beat down the truth about him through their idolatrous worship and immoral behavior. The knowledge of God is readily available to all people, providing insight into both his power and deity. Yet this revelation is unrighteously suppressed, incurring his wrath. "They have trimmed it," Barth says, "to their own measure, and thereby robbed it both of its earnestness and significance."46 The result is spiritual excuselessness, as Saint Paul explains: "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse" (Rom. 1:18-20).
Human beings are inescapably religious beings, even though they have turned away from the true God. On biblical grounds it is not hard to fathom why people possess this essential religious disposition and are naturally inclined toward orienting their lives around some ultimate concern. They are the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:26-27), and even after their defacement due to sin, they still seem to carry about in their consciousness the memory of their essential constitution. This is probably the basis for Calvin's argument that God has not only imparted an "awareness of divinity" (Divinitatis sensum) but also implanted the "seed of religion" (semen religionis) in the human heart.47 Or, as Alexander Schmemann has said, "`Homo sapiens,"homo faber,'... yes, but, first of all `homo adorans."'48 People are thinkers and makers, to be sure, but before they are these things or anything else they are worshipers whose essential nature is to adore. Thus there are no truly non-religious or un-believing people, personal protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. The human heart, given its divine design, abhors a vacuum just as nature does. Its emptiness must be filled, its longings satisfied, its questions answered, its restlessness calmed. It is in a constant search for peace, truth, contentment, and completion.
The question, therefore, is not whether someone is religious or a believer, but rather how and in what. In Langdon Gilkey's words, "Whether he wishes it or not, man as a free creature must pattern his life according to some chosen ultimate end, must center his life on some chosen ultimate loyalty, and must commit his security to some trusted power. Man is thus essentially, not accidentally, religious, because his basic structure, as dependent and yet free, inevitably roots his life in something ultimate."49 How this fundamental religious instinct is directed is the most important fact about a man or a woman individually, and collectively about a culture. The options at the end of the day are only twofold: either the human heart will worship God or an idol, and will cultivate a perspective on life that flows out of the power and illumination of either commitment. The god of one's heart determines the light and direction of one's life. As Henry Zylstra puts it, "No man is religiously neutral in his knowledge of and his appropriation of reality."so
This is precisely the logic of Romans i. Because people are sinful, they are religiously hostile toward God, have replaced the knowledge of him with false deities, and consequently have concocted erroneous explanations of reality. The diversity and relativity of worldviews, therefore, must be traced to the idolatry and the noetic effects of sin upon the human heart. Since people are sinful, they have spurned God, for sin consists of rebellion against him; and since people have spurned God, they have replaced him with an idol, for religious humanity cannot live apart from an object of devotion; and since they have replaced God with an idol, they have reinterpreted reality, for idolatry imparts a different meaning to the universe; and since they have replaced God and reconstructed reality, they have sought to live autonomously, for the only law they follow is their own; and since they have sought to live autonomously from God and his truth, then divine judgment will overtake them as he gives them over to themselves in their sin. In short, an exchange of worship means an exchange of truth which means an exchange of life which means a divine judgment. Saint Paul describes this tragic human condition in these words:
For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks; but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. (Rom. 1:21-25)
According to this passage, the fallen human heart does not rest in its rejection of God, but manufactures a multitude of new deities and ideas in accordance with its own desires. In this regard, Calvin points out that "each one of us forges his own particular error," and in doing so we "forsake the one true God for idols." In a remarkable passage, the Reformer describes the human mind in its spiritual blindness as an error and idol factory. It produces a multitude of superstitions and falsehoods by which the earth is flooded and led astray.
Hence arises that boundless filthy mire of error wherewith the whole earth was filled and covered. For each man's mind is like a labyrinth, so that it is no wonder that individual nations were drawn aside into various falsehoods; and not only this - but individual men, almost, had their own gods. For as rashness and superficiality are joined to ignorance and darkness, scarcely a single person has ever been found who did not fashion for himself an idol or specter in place of God. Surely, just as waters boil up from a vast, full spring, so does an immense crowd of gods flow forth from the human mind, while each one, in wandering about with too much license, wrongly invents this or that about God himself. However, it is not necessary here to draw up a list of the superstitions with which the world has been entangled, because there would be no end to it, and so without a word of them it is sufficiently clear from so many corruptions how horrible is the blindness of the human mind.51
Though he forgoes a list of the world's superstitions here, in a nearby passage Calvin illustrates what he means by the work of the horrible blindness of the human mind in a discussion about "naturalism" and "pantheism" (though not by these labels). He notes that some thinkers like the Epicureans substitute "nature" for God, and by crediting it as the source of all things they seek to suppress God's name as far as they can. Quoting Virgil, Calvin describes ancient "pantheism" as a view in which "an inner spirit feeds ... and mind pervades" the entire universe. In Calvin's critique, however, this secret inspiration or universal mind that allegedly animates the universe is nothing but the construction of a "shadow deity to drive away the true God whom we should fear and adore" 52 For Calvin, therefore, naturalism and pantheism are just two examples among many that demonstrate how the heart is prone to replace God with alternative religious outlooks and systems of belief. Either by replacing God with nature or by trying to identify him with it, naturalists and pantheists respectively make an idol of the creation in either a totally nonreligious or religious way. In either case the idolatrous heart conceives of the universe differently in spiritual and intellectual terms. In generating these new worldviews, the hearts of unbelievers find a way to deflect the truth about God and his creation in their unrighteousness.
But fiddling around with God and the truth is extremely serious business. If we return to the text of Romans i, we find that Paul offers a fourfold evaluation of this process of swapping the biblical God and his truth for a false god and a lie. No doubt the background for his criticisms is classic Old Testament maledictions against the foolishness of idolatry and idol worshipers found in passages like Psalm 115, Psalm 135, and Jeremiah io. First, Paul says that belief systems that replace God and the truth amount to futile speculations (v. 21b). Second, he asserts that those who promote these new idolatrous perspectives become darkened in their foolish hearts (v. 21c; cf. Eph. 4:18). Third, he states that devotees of these new religions and philosophies are deceived, since they profess to be wise but are in fact fools (v. 22). Fourth, Paul states that those who are guilty of the "Great Exchange" are given over by God in judgment to moral reprobation, specifically in the forms of impurity (v. 24), degrading passions (vv. 26-27), and a depraved mind (vv. 28-32). These four facts about false gods and fictitious beliefs make Paul's warning to the Corinthians seem most apropos: "Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become foolish that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness before God. For it is written, `He is the one who catches the wise in their craftiness'; and again, `The LORD knows the reasonings of the wise, that they are useless"' (1 Cor. 3:18-2o).53
Romans i paints a disturbing picture, yet it seems true to life. From Paul's perspective the human heart is intuitively aware of God and the manifestation of his power and glory in his handiwork. But because of sin-induced corruption, it disregards this intuitive awareness. Yet its native religious impulses prompt it nonetheless to manufacture alternative faiths and philosophies in place of God and the truth. It reconceives religion and reinvents reality industriously, and is responsible for the existence of a multitude of fallacious worldviews in any culture at any time. But these bogus visions of the heart are subject to a forthright apostolic critique. They are an exercise in speculative futility. They cast men and women into profound spiritual ignorance. They are confused with wisdom (and vice versa). They terminate in moral reprobation as divine judgment. These idolatrously based belief systems, in their futility, darkness, foolishness, and depravity, make up what the New Testament calls "worldliness." As Craig Gay asks, could it not be true that "worldliness" rests not so much in personal temptations to debauchery, but instead lies in "an interpretation of reality that essentially excludes the reality of God from the business of life"?54 In other words, worldly behavior is the eventual outcome of worldly views that dot the cultural landscape. Therefore, the origin and multiplicity of relativistic worldviews are rooted in the depravity of the human heart as explained by the theology of Romans i.
This picture of the human condition is intensified by the fact that the Bible reveals that the entire creation and its human stewards are caught up in the midst of a spiritual war of cosmic proportions. It pits God and the forces of good against Satan and the powers of evil. These finite powers that insanely oppose the infinite God were originally made by him and had to be good, even as he is good. Romans 8:38-39 indicates that angels, principalities, and powers are among the divinely "created things." Colossians 1:16 teaches that Christ as the agent of creation is responsible for the existence of the entire cosmos, including "thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities." In short, God through Christ created the whole realm of reality, including the company of the angels. Though they received their being, purpose, and power from God, these spiritual creatures turned against him in a mysterious and monstrous act of pride and rebellion (e.g., Isa. 14:12-14; Ezek. 28:11-19; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). Motivated by fierce animosity, they became his resolute enemies, intent upon subverting his divine authority and destroying all his works. They are good creatures gone bad, and now in an attempt to certify their autonomy they engage God and the angels of light in a fierce fight for universal domination. As the pinnacle of God's creative work, the human family is directly implicated in this battle of the ages. Not only are all people affected by it - caught in its cross fire, so to speak - but they are also participants in it, aligning themselves consciously or unconsciously with and fighting for one side or the other, depending upon their spiritual orientation. Thus humankind has to struggle not only with an inherited internal depravity, but also with temptations and assaults from without that reinforce their fallen condition. How difficult it is, therefore, to know God and view the world aright!55
Under the vice grip of the disenchanted worldview of modern naturalism and scientism, many have relegated this scriptural depiction of angels, Satan, the demons, and spiritual warfare to "the dustbin of superstition."56 There is no doubt, however, that what Gregory Boyd aptly calls "a warfare worldview" permeates biblical revelation, is foundational to its message, and has been essential to Christian theology throughout the history of the church. Marshaling impressive evidence from cultures worldwide, Boyd demonstrates that Western secularism is perilously unique in its elimination of the "warfare worldview" from its cultural consciousness, especially its biblical version, which he describes in these terms: "God's good creation has in fact been seized by hostile, evil, cosmic forces that are seeking to destroy God's beneficent plan for the cosmos. God wages war against these forces, however, and through the person of Jesus Christ has now secured the overthrow of this evil cosmic army. The church as the body of Christ has been called to be a decisive means by which this final overthrow is to be carried out . 1117
"The world is a battle zone," Boyd says, and that "is why it looks that way!"58 Now assuming the veracity of this perspective, I submit that central to the "warfare worldview" of the Bible is a "worldview warfare." A worldview warfare is a warfare over worldviews; that is, a megabattle between the forces of light and darkness over the identity or definition of the universe. A key stratagem of the devil, who is the father of lies (John 8:44), is to conceal the true nature of things through the proliferation of multiple cosmic falsehoods in order to secure the blindness of the human heart and its ultimate spiritual perdition (2 Cor. 4:3-4). In the conflagration that has engulfed the universe, the truth about reality is satanically enshrouded in darkness, and a multitude of idolatries and fallacious conceptions of life, counterfeiting as wisdom and enlightenment, are put in its place. The truths about God, creation, fall, and redemption must forever be banished from human consciousness. What better way for Satan to deflect the light of truth than by corrupting it and replacing it with false visions of reality that dominate the cultural landscape? The control of the zeitgeist, or the intellectual and spiritual climate of the age, is a most effective means of controlling what goes into the hearts of men and women, shaping their interests and ruling their lives. Worldviews are the basis for a zeitgeist and are at the center of this process. If this big-picture strategy succeeds, then there is only an occasional need for personal temptation to sin. How people get their jollies is of little interest to Satan if he has already captured and misdirected their hearts.
This proposal that a "worldview warfare" is a critical component of the "warfare worldview" of the Bible has been supported in an influential way by Heinrich Schlier. On the basis of Ephesians 2:2, he proposes that a worldview, or what he calls the "spiritual atmosphere" of a culture, is the "principal source of his [Satan's] domination." In this text, he believes the meaning of the word "air" in the expression "the prince of the power of the air" is best interpreted appositively by the phrase following it, "of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience." Thus he suggests the "air" is not only the literal realm in which Satan exercises his powers (in accordance with Jewish understanding), but it also refers in context to the universal spirit which fosters rebellion in unbelievers. Therefore Schlier thinks it has significant sociocultural meaning. "It is the general spiritual climate which influences mankind, in which men live, which they breathe, which dominates their thoughts, aspirations and deeds. He exercises his `influence' over men by means of the spiritual atmosphere which he dominates and uses as the medium of his power. He gains power over men and penetrates them by means of this atmosphere, which is his realm, the realm of his power. If men expose themselves to this atmosphere, they become its carriers, and thereby contribute to its extension.."59
Ephesians 6:12 would seem to reinforce this interpretation with its reference to the struggle "against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places" Also, in i Corinthians 2:6 Paul implies that there is a wisdom of this age and of the rulers of this age which stands in sharp contrast to the divine wisdom in Christ which he proclaims. Schlier notes, however, that this is not the devil's exclusive method of control, for he attacks natural life at every level and can even inflict physical harm quite apart from such socio-spiritual concerns. Still he is convinced, based on the authority of the apostle, that the "spiritual atmosphere" is Satan's principal source of domination, a concept which functions very much like a Weltanschauung.
At any rate, St. Paul regards it as the chief means by which the principalities exercise their domination. This domination usually begins in the general spirit of the world, or in the spirit of a particular period, attitude, nation or locality. This spirit, in which the course of this world rules, is not just floating about freely. Men inhale it and thus pass it on into their institutions and various conditions. In certain situations it becomes concentrated. Indeed, it is so intense and powerful that no individual can escape it. It serves as a norm and is taken for granted. To act, think or speak against this spirit is regarded as non-sensical or even wrong and criminal. It is "in" this spirit that men encounter the world and affairs, which means that they accept the world as this spirit presents it to them, with all its ideas and values, in the form in which he wants them to find it. The domination which the prince of this world exercises over the atmosphere, gives to the world with its affairs, relationships and situations, and even to existence itself, the appearance of belonging to him; it imposes his valuation on everything.60
Schlier believes these efforts at remodeling reality lead to an individual's misunderstanding of himself and the world, and thus result in his utter ruin. After all, the goal of Satan and the powers is to create a culture of falsehood and death aimed at "the distortion, thwarting, ruin, annihilation, and undoing of creation."61 The individual's immersion in such an environment can only contribute to his demise.
C. S. Lewis's character Screwtape would seem to agree. The seasoned satanic mastermind, in a speech to young devils at the annual dinner of the Tempters' Training College, suggests a strategy of domination and destruction through cultural atmospherics. This is easily accomplished, says Screwtape, because the human "vermin" are "so muddled in mind, so passively responsive to environment," and because "their consciousness hardly exists apart from the social atmosphere that surrounds them." By this process the tempters are able to induce an individual "to enthrone at the centre of his life a good solid, resounding lie." These are their means, and their ultimate end is sinister. It is "the destruction of individuals. For only individuals can be saved or damned, can become sons of the Enemy [God] or food for us [devils]. The ultimate value, for us [devils], of any revolution, war, or famine lies in the individual anguish, treachery, hatred, rage, and despair which it may produce."62
Since Satan and the demons can manipulate men and women only to the extent that they are deceived, what better way to achieve this than by the promulgation of fallacious conceptions of reality through the conduit of the spirit of the age from which no one can escape? To top off this scheme, the principalities and powers under devilish management cleverly cover their tracks and operate in such a clandestine fashion so as to suggest their nonexistence. "They withdraw from sight into the men, elements, and institutions through which they make their power felt. To seem not to appear is part of their essence.""
Thus Satan is an expert in the spiritual and intellectual murder of his subjects through his demons, who delight in the deception of countless numbers of people taken in by the ideas, traditions, and customs in which they live, move, and have their being. "Woe to you, torrent of human custom! `Who can stand against you?' (Ps. 75:8)," bemoaned Saint Augustine, who recognized the power of custom to shape the young. "When will you run dry? How long will your flowing current carry the sons [and daughters] of Eve into the great and fearful ocean which can be crossed, with difficulty, only by those who have embarked on the Wood of the cross (Wisd. 14:7) ?"64 In recent memory, the torrents of human custom have been based in the worldview waters of naturalism such as Darwinism, Marxism, Freudianism, secular humanism, existentialism, nihilism, and postmodernism. These mighty rivers have flowed together into a "great and fearful ocean" of deception in which many in the West, and elsewhere, have drowned. Even more recently, a flood of pantheistic and panen- theistic thought has also capsized many. At the outset of a new millennium, who can forecast with any certainty what the "atmospheric" pressures will be in days ahead?
What is certain, however, is that the human heart in its fallen condition will continue to suppress the truth in unrighteousness and to manufacture surrogate gods and errant perspectives on the world. For the human heart in its religious restlessness must have something in which to believe and by which to make sense of life. What is also certain is that spiritual warfare will continue, and it will continue to revolve around worldviews. The kingdom of Satan will capitalize on human pride and self-sufficiency as the source of idolatries and errors to insure the fact that the world's religious and philosophical environments are dominated by false notions that sustain deception and keep people from God and the truth. The doctrines of sin and spiritual warfare, therefore, play a vital role in understanding the notion of worldview from a Christian vantage point. They are products of the noetic effects of sin and are indispensable satanic weaponry in spiritual warfare against God. There is no way out from this spiritual, intellectual, and moral destitution apart from the grace of God.
David K. Naugle Jr.. Worldview: The History of a Concept (Kindle Locations 3747-3778). Kindle Edition.