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Cultural Difference and the Mind of God

Cultural Difference and the Mind of God

Being a bi-cultural or third-culture adult can be very confusing. Experiencing the deep differences in ways that people interact, the social norms that people assume are shared across cultures (but are not), and navigating divergent perspectives on God and life often leaves my head and heart spinning.

In my life, I’ve seen the natural tendency of humans to compare, to measure other cultures and norms against our own, and to assume that we understand each other when we are really (mis)interpreting each other through our own cultural lenses. The result of these interactions is often offense, arrogance, and misunderstanding.

But what does cultural difference reveal about God and us?

First, our God loves diversity.

The God who created over 350,000 species of beetle has created a marvelous world full of wonderful difference. The human tendency to reduce or simplify everything so that it makes sense or makes us feel comfortable is out of whack with a creation whose complexity and diversity pushes us to step into uncomfortable spaces beyond our understanding. 

Second, we are incredibly limited as human beings.

Our bounded experience is microscopic mapped against the tapestry of human culture and history. My experience of stepping deeply into another culture, sharing in a cross-cultural marriage, and studying culture as an academic discipline, has revealed my own limitations. I am still only beginning to plumb the depths of how my own culture has shaped my perspectives. But the more I learn, the less I feel like I know.

Third, God’s ultimate purpose is to bring everything under his care.

God’s goal is not to unify culture. He is not working to transform the collectivist into an individualist or to change a guilt/innocence orientation into a shame/honor perspective. God’s plan is to bring the wonderful diversity of all cultural expressions under his care such that the whole earth, in all its difference, will worship and proclaim his glory.

What this practically means for me, as my heart and head spin, is that my cross-cultural experience, God’s love of diversity, human fallibility, and God’s plan to bring everything under his glory compels me to engage in the world in faithful humility with a heart of love.

It is faithful humility that drives me to prioritize Christ’s love and grace over a sense of intellectual/cultural superiority. Faithful humility allows me to embrace God’s design and pursue God’s authority while I extend grace to and learn from others instead of feeling the need to protect or defend myself. Faithful humility is characterized by an open hand instead of a clenched fist, a loving heart in place of a wounded pride.

As a bi-cultural (or third-culture) adult, I am often still very confused. But I am thankful for how my experience has pushed me further from myself and closer to the mind and heart of God!

About the Author: Dr. Bill Merrifield is the IDEAS Director of Education and served cross-culturally in Beirut, Lebanon for 17 years. His experience includes roles in educational leadership and teaching in higher education, secondary education, and theological education. Enjoy other blogs by Dr. Merrifield, such as Living a Life of Faithful Risk.