Theology and Me
Theology and Me
This month I have decided to share with you my theology. (For this musing I am going to limit the scope of what I mean by theology to the study of the nature of God). Because of my diverse theological training (Los Angeles Baptist College, Talbot Seminary, Fuller Seminary, University of San Diego, and Azusa) and the fact that I journey with people from a variety of denominations and spiritual traditions (Protestant and Catholic), I am queried from time to time regarding my theology. Often times those who ask such questions are looking for theological boxes and/or markers that will help them figure out what I believe to be true about God, the Scriptures, salvation, end times, church government, role of women. I sense that they are looking for a way to place me in a particular theological straight jacket, believing that if they can pin down where I might be coming that this may bring them a sense of security and comfort in our exchanges. As you can probably imagine, I tend to resist such neat and tidy categories.
Now, before I get underway unveiling my theology, let me assure you that I am not adamantly opposed to systematic theology, for I believe there is an important place for such endeavors. What I am opposed to is thinking that a certain theological system has all the answers to the questions pertaining to God, man, salvation, etc. It is my opinion that individuals who have embraced one theological system, believing it contains all the definitive answers to the questions of God and religion, have an over inflated view of humanity’s intellectual capabilities and a limited view of the otherness of God (that God is infinite, holy, all-knowing and wise…wholly different from us in ways beyond our ability to even imagine, let alone express).
To me this predisposition to seek to intellectually grasp the ungraspable is seen in the writings of the premier New Testament theologian, namely the apostle Paul, who in the midst of writing his greatest theological treatise, Romans, pens these words, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His past beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Who has been His counselor? Who has ever given to God that God should repay him? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.” Paul, when he is a little over two thirds of the way through his letter to the Romans, suddenly becomes aware of the incomprehensible greatness and majesty of God to such a degree that he cannot contain himself but must express this wondrous truth in the midst of this theological treatise. Even Paul, with all his brilliance and theological prowess, is overwhelmed by the “riches of God’s wisdom, knowledge” and the incomprehensibility of God.
So with all that said, let me move back to the original question, namely, what is my theology? Before I give my answer let me preface my remarks with the following: my theology flows from my study and interaction (and the study and interactions of others) with God, God’s Word, and the circumstances of my life and life in general. My theology is built upon a strong sense of the mystery and otherness of God while maintaining a firm belief in the incarnational presence of God.
There are seven passages that have greatly influenced my theology. Four of these are found in the Old Testament: three in Isaiah and the other in the book of Job. The remaining three passages are found in the New Testament, one in Matthew and two in John. The remainder of this musing will involve me sharing some of the insights I have gleaned from these verses, insights that have led to the formation of my theology.
The Vastness, Mystery, and Otherness of God:
The first of these passages is one I memorized early on as a new Christian and is found in Isaiah 55: 7–8. It states, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, declares the Lord. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so My ways are higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.” This passage reminds me that God and God's ways cannot be fully comprehended nor even appreciated by my finite mind. There will be times, probably more than I am even aware of, when I am not able to comprehend the divine whys and wherefores behind what I see unfolding in my life, the lives of others, or the affairs of the world. My inability to understand what God is up to does not mean that God is unwise or uncaring or is not powerful, but rather it speaks to the truth that God’s ways and thoughts are going to be inscrutable to me whether I like it or not.
The second passage, also found in Isaiah, is Isaiah 40:12-31. This wonderful passage affirms the otherness and greatness of God, while at the same time alluding to God’s involvement in the lives of His people. I was drawn to this passage following a tragic time in my life where my understanding of who God was proved to be at best less than adequate and at worst untrue. It was during my time of sitting with the words of this passage and pondering the images of God contained in this passage that my awareness of the otherness of God began to take shape. As you scan this passage you will find questions such as: “Who has understood the mind of the Lord, or instructed Him as His counselor? Who was it that taught Him knowledge or showed Him the path of understanding?” And in the middle of the passage God asks the question, “To whom will you compare Me? Or who is My equal?” You also will find descriptions concerning the vastness and greatness of God: “Surely the nations are like a drop in the bucket; they regard as dust on the scales; He weighs the islands as though they were fine dust. And before Him all the nations are as nothing they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing. And in verse 28 we find these words, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, His understanding no one can fathom.” This passage speaks to me of the greatness, power and wisdom of God, all of which are beyond my ability to comprehend, let alone explain.
This brings me to my third passage, found in Job 42:3. This passage continues the theme of the otherness of God. Here we find the response of Job to God after a rather long verbal exchange. At the beginning of the book of Job you find a man who has God all figured out. He has a theology that seems to be true and seems to answer the questions of life, at least until a set of horrendous circumstances comes his way. It is then that Job begins to discover that his finely honed theology leaves him at a loss, feeling weak, isolated and vulnerable. But he is not the only one whose theology let him down. Each of his “comforters” also has a clearly defined theology that they use to make sense of the circumstance of Job’s life. However, in the end, when all is said and done, God calls Job’s friends to account for their inadequate theology while we find Job’s final response is one of acknowledging his lack of understanding when it comes to the person and ways of God; “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” This passage reminds me that my theology is refined in the crucible of life’s circumstances. When the day is sunny and clear almost any theology will seem adequate, but when the weather changes and the chilly winds of loss, suffering and disappointment blow, it is then that we will discover the strength, vitality and veracity of our theology.
The three passages above have caused me to realize the vastness, the mystery and the otherness of God. I have come to accept that God cannot be put into a box of any size, for God is infinite and transcends the ability of my finite mind to fully apprehend and appreciate God and what it is that God is up to. But that is not the whole story. At the same time, I can know God, experience God, and be in relationship with God, which brings me to my final four passages.
The Presence, Knowledge and Care of God:
The first of these is found in Matthew 1:23 which reads, “The Virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call Him Emmanual which means God with us.” This passage communicates to me the wonderfully amazing truth that this infinite God can be with me in a very personal and profound way. The truth that God is a God who is with me fills me with strength, hope and the ability to endure in the face of hardship and adversity because I know that I am not alone. Matthew 1:23 reminds me that the vastness, mystery and incomprehensibility of God does not preclude my ability to experience God in an individual and intimate way.
The above thread, the know-ability of God, continues in my next passage, found in John 1:18, which reads, “No one has ever seen God, but God the one and only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.” This tells me that I can know God and that the best way to come to know God is by looking at Jesus and listening to His words and teachings. It also speaks to me of God’s desire to be known, for God sent His Son into the world so that I might come to know and experience God as never before.
These two passages (Matthew 1:23/John 1:18) communicate to me God's choice to be involved with me and God's desire to be known by me, known and experienced in a way that is profoundly meaningful and life changing. And yet somehow, while this is true, the truth of the first four passages remains true also.
The third verse in this section is the shortest verse in the Bible. It is found in John 11:35 and very simply states, “Jesus wept.” There are not words to adequately express the profound impact that these two words have and continue to have on my life. Suffice it to say that these two words communicate to me a level of Jesus’ compassion, involvement and care beyond my ability to intellectually grasp, yet somehow I am able to enter into and embrace the profound heartfelt truth they communicate to me regarding the scope and ethos of Jesus’ involvement in my life. Knowing that Jesus identifies with my pain, struggles and heartache enables and encourages me to bring my feelings honestly and openly to God.
The Mystery and Involved Caring of God
The final passage is Isaiah 53:3-6 which reads, “He was despised and rejected by man, a man of sorrows, familiar with suffering. Like one from whom man hid their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered Him stricken by God, smitten by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to their own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” This passage is one to which I find myself continually returning each time I prepare to take communion. It communicates to me the length to which God was and is willing to go so that we (God and I) can be in a relationship forever. It reminds me of the price tag that Jesus paid to pave the way for me to personally know and experience God.
I believe this last passage brings together the twin truths that are the basis of my theology: the involved and caring presence of God and the mystery/otherness of God. It clearly shows me that God is willing to do whatever it takes for me to be in relationship with God and yet at the same time this is incomprehensible to me. Why would God would choose to send His son to be pierced through for my transgressions and crushed for my iniquities in order to be in relationship with me. Most definitely God’s thoughts are higher than my thoughts and God’s ways higher than my ways.
So what is my theology of God? It is that God is not definable but intimately knowable, that God is incomprehensible and easily assessable, and that God is wholly other and forever with me in a personal and caring manner. My theology is built upon the bedrock of God being infinitely more than I could ever know or imagine and yet God is knowable and intimately involved in my life now and forever more.
Now what about you? What is your theology? My desire in writing this musing was not to convince you of the rightness of my theological perspective, for it is flawed and limited at best. Rather, my desire is to stimulate your thinking along these lines, to encourage you to play with the idea of choosing just seven passages of Scripture that would form the foundation of your theology of God.
What seven passages would you choose? What do these passages communicate to you about the nature and character of God and God's relationship with you?
I invite you to set aside some time to ponder this, to come up with a list of verses that you hold dear, verses that communicate to you something of the truth of the reality of who God is. Explore these verses, sit with these verses, listen for the voice of God flowing from these verses, and allow God to begin to illuminate your theology to you.
This could prove to be a very valuable and impacting time for you, a time in which your knowledge, understanding and experience of God may very well be deepened and expanded. A time in which you just might discover how your theology has been profoundly shaped and molded by your personal experience of God and the Scriptures.
IN NEXT MONTH’S MUSING: I will share with you the two things, when all is said and done, that my theology boils down to.
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