by Carsten Thomsen | 10 February 2023 |
I am enthralled by magnificent minds’ discussing the endlessly deep layers of theology. They dare to raise existential questions and deduce fascinating theories as they strive to understand the incomprehensible divine.
But in the past ten years or so, something has happened in my mind. After the passing of both of my parents and my wife’s parents, and then eight years ago losing my wife at much too early an age of 65, my perspective has gradually changed.
My wife’s theology was simple and keeps ringing in my ears: “Every Sabbath afternoon all you wise men sit in the living room discussing theology or church politics, but who takes care of the children?”
Her words echo Jesus’ parting words to Peter “…if you love me, feed My sheep.”
This morning I looked at my bookshelves. I saw many of her books from by-gone years. Her books dealt with family, relationships, and health, plus novels about life and love. My books deal with technology, travel, and religion.
Flashback to a few months ago. I had gotten out of the shower and looked in the bathroom mirror. I shocked even myself by muttering the following words: “Theology is a bunch of wise men having endless discussions about something they don’t know anything about”.
At first, I felt like a heretical infidel. But it was just an honest thought. Honesty can be refreshing, but also scary.
Yet honesty, along with curiosity, is one of our God-given gifts. Based on it we try, also using our God-given logical thought, to figure out how God thinks, what God’s motives are, and why God does things. We try to figure out whether God is good or evil, involved or not, and deeply cares for us or just tolerates unlimited misery. We claw and scratch for answers to the unanswerable “Why?”
But all the discussions end up with even more discussions. Raising more questions. Writing more peer-reviewed scholarly articles. Publishing deeply reasoned books, espousing different viewpoints that help satisfy our curiosity and give peace of mind to the perplexing realities of life. Those Kierkegaardian hopelessly long sentences produce occasional pearls of practical wisdom.
But still, when everything is said and done, more is said than done.
Not everything is logical
After going down that road, and mostly finding endless cul-de-sacs or twisted detours, I have dared to conclude that theology does not lend itself to classical logical thinking. It cannot be proven, understood, or rationalized. By transcending observable proof and strict logic, it moves into a totally different domain, which quickly becomes as tangled and incomprehensible as ten-dimensional strings in advanced physics.
Perhaps it is scarier for many men, because they want to be rational. It’s my experience, at least, that women are often more willing to trust their feelings and experience the mystery of the Divine. Is it their transcendental experiences of the mystery of conception, the blossoming of the fetus, and the boundless drama of birth?
Jesus hinted how not to get lost in the undergrowth of theological jungles: “By their fruits shall you know them”. We can neither prove nor disprove theological theories, but we can observe the behavior derived from them. The results of love and caring in words and action. Christ’s words were profound enough to dumbfound the theologians yet enthrall the masses and attract small children. He also dropped hints about the limit of our ability to understand things beyond our realm, those things exceeding our capacity to handle the responsibility associated with knowledge of the Divine.
Jesus had a running battle with the theologians of the day. He teased and cajoled them, He replied to their trick questions with counter-questions that puzzled them. They made things complicated—much too complicated. Jesus made things simple: except you become as little children…”.
And that simplicity triggers deeply profound thoughts.
My amateur theology
My theology, simplistic and perhaps overly naïve, starts by recognizing that God is huge and I am small. I must approach Him in humility, and my knowledge of Him will always be greatly limited. Many aspects of God are and probably will remain a mystery for a long time. Many questions about His nature, motives, power, engagement, and intervention remain unanswered.
I have grudgingly been forced to recognize and accept my limitations. I have seen the warnings starting in the garden of Eden about the risk for man to “become as one of us”, to the tower of Babel where humankind thought they could do anything.
These warnings hint of the risk of striving to know too much about God, crossing an invisible boundary that can open Pandora’s box. We risk obtaining irreversible knowledge we cannot handle by striving to be too God-like, without the wisdom to administer that knowledge and power that comes with it. That’s a risky trip into the territory of blasphemy.
Theology requires faith, which defies logic. Yet we can hardly stop striving to “prove” our hypotheses about God. Doubting Thomas, by insisting on proof, was allowed to see and feel Jesus’ wounds, proving that He was risen. And thus destroyed Thomas’ faith. Faith became fact. Jesus nudged both him and us: “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believed”.
So, my amateur theology requires a leap of faith into the incomprehensible, while avoiding a leap into a bottomless pit of presumption or nonsense. Tested by good fruits, it must be lived out in real life. It says “I accept” to the things I do not understand. It seeks more to be than to know. It seeks to experience, not hypothesize. And it also must live within the guardrails of our God-given common sense, thereby creating a space for creative synergy between theology and daily life.
Now, I fear I have just shot myself in the foot by creating my own theology. In the mirror I see the glaring irony of my criticism of theology. So while not rejecting theology—and greatly admiring many of its great thinkers who also show down-to-earth compassion—I yet fear it can be an escape hatch from the real world of love and hate, joy and pain.
I hope to live theology, not as a theoretical knowledge of God but as a daily experience. A wonderful yet mystical experience of God’s love filling my life.
Carsten Thomsen is a retired engineer active in the Nærum church in Denmark.