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The Art of Theology: Not Putting God in Your Box

devotional thought of the day:IMG_0882

1  Then Job answered the LORD. 2  Job I know, LORD, that you are all-powerful; that you can do everything you want. 3  You ask how I dare question your wisdom when I am so very ignorant. I talked about things I did not understand, about marvels too great for me to know. 4  You told me to listen while you spoke and to try to answer your questions. 5  In the past I knew only what others had told me, but now I have seen you with my own eyes. 6  So I am ashamed of all I have said and repent in dust and ashes. Job 42:1-6 (TEV)

272 If you are sensible and humble, you will have realised that one never stops learning… This happens in every field; even the wisest will always have something to learn, until the end of their lives; if they don’t, they cease to be wise. (1)

I am a pastor, that means to a certain point, I have been trained as a theologian.  If you look at my libraries, you will see a few thousand volumes of books.  The hardbacks I have read through, the digital ones, well – there are too many, but I source many of them each week in sermon preparation. Usually I skim maybe 20% of the 100-1500 hits I research, looking for various things to help prepare a message.  I probably choose 10-20 to copy and paste and dwell through each week.

Been doing this for a while now, actually changed denominations once, have my favorite authors ( Luther, Escriva, Oden, Ratzinger, Willimon, Melancthon, Walther, Pieper, Augustine, Fracnis De Sales, Robert Webber )  It is somewhat an eclectic list, with guys from different times, different backgrounds. Which leads me to my point. I

We can’t put God in our Box.

We have to take Him as He reveals Himself, even if we don’t necessarily like His methods, His rules, His ways.  We can’t say they are wrong simply because we don’t like them.  Nor can we say with integrity that He didn’t really mean “that”.  Yet to often we do, unaware that pride is causing us to shatter the first commandment.

Over the years, others have done fine jobs summarizing the faith.  The three creeds that are held by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Churches ( The Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian) are good.  I am particularly fond of others, the Augsburg Confession and Apology of the Augsburg Confession, and Luther’s Catechisms for example.  Pieper has done a masterpiece of theology, so has Thomas Oden never mind Luther and Augustine.  But I can’t remember ever page, every question and answer of these theological giants.  My expectation is neither can they!  They couldn’t in a couple thousand pages describe everything about God, they couldn’t out-Bible the Bible. They wrote great things… yet, it is still the observation of men, not equal to scripture.

That is what Job realized at the end of the book that bears his name. (as did his friends…) It is what Josemaria Escriva talks about, in a section on humility (not, incidentally, on wisdom!)

A wise man once said that, “A man’s got to know his limitations…”  Another, Socrates was considered to be the wisest man of his time.  His response to being told this was something like this, “it is only because I realize how much I don’t know.”  A good theologian talks where there is definite scriptural support – and struggles with that which contradicts his logix, because It is God’s word, God’s reasoning that trumps ours.  Even when it doesn’t seem logical, or fair.

Yesterday’s blog was about walking humbly with God, about keeping our eyes on Him, about sometimes that humility is only found in the midst of great sorrow.  Today’s is similar, our wisdom comes, not from what we know about God, but that we realize we are not omniscient, that His word trumps our logic. That there is a reason why He is God, that He is our Lord, our Savior, our Benefactor, and we are simply…. His kids.

So give up, for a day or two, putting God in your box…. let Him instead bring you into His glory….

Lord Have Mercy!

Escriva, Josemaria (2011-01-31). Furrow (Kindle Locations 1337-1340). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

You must be a Theophilus (Loved/r of God before being a Theologian

Devotional Thought of the Day:

 2  I may have the gift of inspired preaching; I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains—but if I have no love, I am nothing. 1 Corinthians 13:2 (TEV)

7  The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. 8  Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ 9  and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousnessPhilippians 3:7-9 (MSG) 

“You wrote to me: “To pray is to talk with God. But about what?” About what? About him, and yourself: joys, sorrows, successes and failures, great ambitions, daily worries—even your weaknesses! And acts of thanksgiving and petitions—and love and reparation. In short, to get to know him and to get to know yourself— “to get acquainted!”” (1)

For the last year or so, I have been toying with the idea of going back to school, to get a doctoral degree.  I’ve thought about which degree to get, for there are a number of fields that interest me – from worship, to sociology, to counseling, to homiletics and other pragmatic areas of ministry.  Yesterday I went back to where it all started, 30 years ago this fall, as I entered a “non-denom” Bible College – in a very accidental “God-thing” type moment.

Combine with that preparing to preach this weekend – “Trinity Sunday” we call it, a day to meditate upon how God has revealed Himself to us, as three distinct, yet …..One.  One of the greatest, most complicated theological doctrines there is, and yet, still so far out of ability to comprehend. ( Read the Athanasian Creed – an incredibly beautiful explanation of God, yet each phrase, raises more questions, leaves us more in awe.  And for a theologian, albeit an amateur one, (as all pastors are – as serving others takes precedence…always… over such deep thoguhts) I love to just sit back and plumb the depths of the minds who wrote far more comprehensively than I can think.

But then I come to St. Paul – a man who was a first rate theologian in his day, prior to His conversion, who wrote the quotes above.   It doesn’t matter how much I know, I’ve got to realize I am loved, I have to understand why Paul so desired to be embraced by Christ, why everything else took a back seat to knowing, not the details.

Which is where Theophilus – the person Luke writes his gospel for comes in.  The name in Greek is Loved by God/Lover of God. But it is that relationship that matters, that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have revealed that we are the beloved, that we never walk alone, that we have been cleansed and healed and are loved.   It is starting from there, realizing the miracles our being justified and sanctified are only to deliver us, the children of the Father, the ones Jesus calls His friends, the ones who are the Home of the Holy Spirit.  We must be Theophilus, before we ever become Theologians..

English: Gergeti Trinity Church cross relief

English: Gergeti Trinity Church cross relief (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I would never say to not study theology, but first, come to know God, as St Josemaria says – get acquainted with Him in prayer.  Talk to Him – about everything and anything.  Listen to Him, hear Him tell you of His love, of His mercy, of His grace.  That is what matters, in a way, it is ALL that matters….. for knowledge even all the data we can generate about Trinity – without that love… is nothing….empty…worthless.

I pray for you  (and ask you to pray for me, as the apostle Paul did for the people of Ephesus…

 14  For this reason I fall on my knees before the Father, 15  from whom every family in heaven and on earth receives its true name. 16  I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves, 17  and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith. I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love, 18  so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love. 19  Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God. Ephesians 3:14-19 (TEV)

 

 

(1)  Escriva, Josemaria (2010-11-02). The Way (Kindle Locations 365-368). Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

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