Why does theology matter?
What is it? Why, as in why does it matter today?
Theology is the study of God. But what does theology have to do with us? Why, especially in this crazy year, does theology matter? All good questions! There are many questions in the study of God.
First lesson from my very first day in seminary, printed largely and loudly upon the chalk board: “GOD is GOD. You are not.”
“God is God. You are not.” There is far more to that statement than first meets the eye. And therein lies the study of theology.
When we try and figure out what God is doing, i.e. what God is up to, we first begin by recognizing that God is wholly (and HOLY) other. God is not us. God is not our relative, friend, neighbor, co-worker. God is God.
It is easy to think of God as being like you, your friend who agrees with you on just about everything. Surely God roots for the same teams as you and wants the same wins as you. That must be God. And surely God has the same views on everything as you and roots for the same political party and candidate as you. Why if God were here right now, I am certain God would drive the same truck as you! No doubt about it.
Okay, that’s not actually God. That’s not to say that God is driving an ecofriendly hybrid either. Perhaps God exists beyond cars and trucks and games and politics (and even time!).
I used to work a job where God was invoked by loved ones in the hopes of another breath, another heartbeat and another chance. Life is just that tenuous and just that fragile.
What can we say of God? How can we even begin to understand?
In Anglican Theology, in which I was raised (or steeped to use a British term) there is a three-legged stool upon which we stand seeking God. One leg is scripture. Many faiths stop at this leg. Scripture is enough! “Solo Scriptura” as Martin Luther once proclaimed (that’s scripture alone). The problem (whenever people are involved there are problems….) is that scripture can say a great many things. In Biblical books of Samuel, Numbers and Judges there are passages that call for killing every man, woman and child in a given area. Really. Look it up.
So back to the three-legged stool: the first leg is scripture. The second leg is tradition, defined as how the Christian faith is lived out over the centuries. To use the above example, tradition teaches us that killing every man, woman and child lead to genocide and wars and goes against Jesus command to love God with all our heart, soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourself. Some faiths emphasize tradition over scripture.
Finally, the third leg of the three-legged stool, after scripture and tradition, is reason. Reason is the rational mind trying to make sense of an irrational world. Reason includes one’s experience within the world. Reason, to again use the above example, might say (scream!), “I don’t even want to go to that village. I’m going to leave every man, woman and child alone and avoid needless suffering. Or I might even try and help and thereby serve and love God.
Now we’re near the end of this article and the beginning of your study. What have you learned thus far? God is God, you’re not God. Only God is God…. If you think God agrees with you on everything, well that’s your dog, not God. God doesn’t drive your preferred truck or car and isn’t consumed with self-righteousness on sports, politics or transportation. Help the people in the village and the people around you, your neighbors and strangers. Consider looking at a given issue, or maybe this crazy year, through the lenses of scripture, tradition and reason. You might find that you’ll grow in understanding and in faith.
We’re going to get through this year, upcoming elections and whatever is next around the 2020 corner. We will. Together we will make a difference as we reach out to help one another and show the love of God.
This Insight Article is sponsored by Tanana Valley Christian Conference
Printed in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner's Faith Section on September 11, 2020.
Married 27 years, 2 kids, 1 cat and 1 dog. Ordained & Chaplain for 20 years. Ministry philosophy - we're all in this together and Jesus leads the way. Hobbies: working in the woodshed, teaching, and competitive shooting