Welcome back to our weekly theology column here on Gold Hill Online. Each week, we will be exploring some theology together, seeking to grow in our understanding of God and His purposes so that we can become more and more the people we are called to be. We’ve spent this month looking at some principles that should guide our approach to theology, and there’s one more I want to look at:
One of the things that can be most off-putting about theology can be the sense of arrogance that sometimes comes with it. Please don’t misunderstand me. I am NOT saying that all theologians are arrogant. Not at all. But the pursuit of theology, seeking to think and speak about God accurately, can lead us to arrogance.
After all, we are speaking of things above our station. We, the created, are seeking to ask and answer questions about the Creator. The things of theology are simply massive, certainly far bigger than you or I are. Theology asks us to stretch our heads, hearts and lives round things beyond our comprehension.Theology asks us to stretch our heads, hearts and lives round things beyond our comprehension. Click To Tweet
So am I saying we shouldn’t bother? Not at all! But given the magnitude of the task, we need to remember not to embark on it with arrogance, thinking we’ve got it nailed and perfected.
The Bible, time and again, calls its readers to ask big questions and seek understanding. But there is another message within Scripture, one which needs to be kept in tension with that understanding. And it is this:
You don’t know everything
I think of Paul, who writes to the Corinthians, who tended towards thinking they’d made it, and reminds them:
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)
Paul is gently reminding them (and us) that while yes we can see and perceive things now, it is not full and complete understanding. That is still to come, and not before Jesus Himself returns and we see everything in dazzling clarity and completeness.
I’m also reminded of Job, who asks deep questions of life and suffering. His ‘friends’ try to give so so many answers, but none satisfy. When God speaks, He asks this:
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2)
God is not smacking Job into submission, but He is reminding Job that he is not in a position to answer all the questions he has. God then reminds Job that it is God who was there at the beginning, who understands the mysteries of the universe, who is equipped to answer these questions. Job is not.
And when we think we’ve got a handle on who Jesus is, what He’s all about, the Bible reminds us we’ll never quite have it. Yes, we know He is the Son of God, the Son of Man, Messiah, Prince of Peace, Bread of Life, all those names. But in Revelation, we read this of Jesus:
“he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself.” (Revelation 19:12b)
He has a name we do not know. However much we do know and understand about Jesus, about God, about this world, about salvation or the past or the future, there will always be things we do not understand. And with that comes a related statement: there will be things we are wrong about. Our understanding will never be complete or perfect. It will always be flawed until Jesus returns and perfects all things.
And it is with that attitude that we must approach the study of theology. Not with the sense that we are just groping around in the dark—we are not, because God reveals Himself. But also not with the sense that we can and do know all things, that we the created can fully understand the Creator. What does that means for us? I think it means at least three things in our approach to theology.
We must be ready to listen. If I am not perfect in my understanding, then I need to remember that just listening to myself will just perpetuate that imperfection. We must be willing—even eager—to engage in this work of theology in community, both with people who have a common understanding and those who we might disagree with who will stretch us, and perhaps challenge some of the areas where we aren’t right.
We will sometimes change our minds. The natural follow-up to listening is that sometimes we’ll come to the conviction that we’ve been wrong. If my theology doesn’t change in the next year, what that means is that the things I’m currently wrong about I will still be wrong about. I’d rather have the humility to accept I’m wrong and change, than stubbornly stay the same.
We are gracious with others. Theology can be judgmental, putting others down. It should not be. We are all flawed, and we all need to engage with others with grace, love and kindness. If I don’t have it all sussed, the who am I to look down on someone else for not having it sussed too? It doesn’t mean we can’t disagree, but we must never disagree unkindly.
So, in this column and in our lives, let’s commit to a humble theology.
For more posts in the theology column, click here. This post was written by Dave Criddle (@DaveCriddle), the online pastor at Gold Hill. He has his own blog, Limping into Truth, if you want to read more of what he has written.
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