I don't work crossword puzzles regularly, but I love trying to solve them on airplanes. On a recent lengthy flight, my enjoyment of the puzzle I was working waned swiftly as I realized there was no way I was going to be able to complete it. Though I had filled in about ninety percent of the boxes, the remaining ten percent had stumped me, and there was no one in the seat next to me to bail me out. The beauty of crossword puzzles is that as you fill in the answers you know, you become able to fill in even answers to the clues you don't know, based on the letters that overlap. But it wasn't working this time.
When I finally gave up and looked at the solution, I discovered the problem. One of the answers I had been most certain about was incorrect. I was sure that a five-letter word meaning "GLOWER" could be none other than "FROWN," especially since I knew that the fourth letter needed to be a "W". In fact, the answer that I needed was "SCOWL," which made the rest of the crossword fall nicely into place. It was an honest mistake, but one with calamitous implications for the rest of the puzzle.
The search for a coherent worldview is not unlike solving a crossword puzzle, in the sense that the pieces of the puzzle must all fit in order to get the solution. There is no one starting place from which one can build a worldview. Premises stand or fall together, and the coherence of the premises as a whole outweighs the importance of any one premise. A coherent worldview must answer the questions of origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. A watertight answer to one of these questions is utterly useless if the worldview can't answer the others, and answer them in a way that isn't self-contradictory.
Of course, when I set out to solve a crossword puzzle, my assumption is that someone has designed the puzzle, and it is workable. The same sort of assumption is made by the person who seeks a coherent worldview. He or she follows the clues where they lead. Examining any sort of theistic worldview this way makes sense. If God exists, the clues should lead to Him. Perhaps some of our beliefs about Him may get overturned along the way (just as a wrong answer throws my crossword off track), but in the end, all will be coherent if it has been designed by an omniscient, omnipotent creator.
On the other hand, it mystifies me that people expect to find answers by applying the same sorts of tests to atheistic worldviews. They line up premises and search for coherence, all the while ignoring the fact that if atheism is true, they shouldn't expect to find coherence. Seeking coherence from atheism is like trying to solve a crossword puzzle without any clues. If God does not exist, we shouldn't expect to deduce this conclusion through the clues that He hasn't left for us!
When I could not make the crossword puzzle work, I did not question my initial assumption that there was a solution. I knew that there were pieces of information that I was missing. This did not mean that the puzzle had not been designed. When we come to questions that we don't yet have the answers to, we do not have to give up our search for coherence. There is a difference in recognizing that we don't have all the answers yet, and recognizing that we are working from answers that just don't fit.
In the wilderness, Moses told the people of Israel, "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever" (Deuteronomy 29:29a). We do not have all the pieces of the puzzle, but we have many of them. We must start from what we know, continually testing for truth, doubting our own understanding, but never doubting the God who made us.
Betsy Childs is associate writer at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
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