Hannah and Papa J

Hannah and Papa J

Monday, June 2, 2014

The problem with theologians

Dear Hannah,

The more I think about the phrase common sense, the more convinced I am that the people who have least to do with it are theologians.  Common sense is, of course, an allusion to our hearing and sight, and an implication that if we're seeing and hearing the same things, then we must be coming to some kind of an obvious understanding about what they mean.  The theologian has nothing to do with any of this.  He spends his time arguing about things he's never really seen from Someone he's never really heard.  Even Job was honest enough to say, when he finally met his Creator, that all the while he'd been talking about someone he'd never really met (Job 42:5-6).  The theologian in this sense is slightly less honest: the more seriously he takes his profession, the more you'd think he got his creeds from God in person.

He's happy to argue this very case.  He says he's arguing over truths like scientists argue over the facts of nature: he simply takes the recorded facts and statements of the Bible, and then picks all the ones which argue his case, and then pretends they couldn't possibly mean anything else.  If we consider the Calvinists, on one hand, we see they have all the verses about God fashioning the heart, and how those who are appointed to eternal life believe, and how Jesus saves everyone the Father has given Him (Psalm 33:14-15, Acts 13:48 John 6:39).  They even have a passage that shows how the natural man can't understand the things of God until God Himself teaches him with the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13-16).  Then the Arminians argue back that God only gives the Spirit to those who obey Him, and that seed of life and knowledge is given to everyone, but that it's choked by our desires, the persecutions of the world, and the very actions of the Devil himself -- in other words, directly from everyone except God (Acts 5:32, Matthew 13:1-23).  They even have a passage about how a man's name can be removed from the Book of Life, which any reasonable person would think the end of the discussion, but isn't (Revelation 3:5).

It's possible they could both be wrong for taking these statements in their literal senses.  Jesus said we were the salt of the world, and then He said we were evil.  Maybe what He's trying to say is that there's an angel and a Devil in all of His followers, and the Calvinists refuse to believe any of us could be angels, and the Arminians refuse to believe that any Christians can currently be living as devils -- despite the observable fact that Christians will have you thanking God for Christian brotherhood one moment, and questioning a benevolent God's existence the next.

Theologians love to argue about stupid things, like about whether man has free will while they're clearly holding him responsible for it; and they love to yell about the incarnation and say that modalists are damned because they don't understand the trinity, which is like being indignant about people disagreeing that circles are squares.  The theologian is brilliant both beyond and below his own humanity -- beyond because he fights about the things that are larger than science and politics; below because he's completely forgotten to use the good sense that God has given him.  Someone might argue that we're all theologians, on some level, and they would be right.  But if I ever wanted to sabotage someone's good sense, I would advise him to make theology his profession without ever being a pastor -- or in other words, to be paid to argue about God all day without ever being responsible for anyone's soul. 

I don't mean to disparage the theologians too much: the philosophers have the same lack of common sense, but worse.  A Biblical theologian will at least agree that there's one God, and that aside from His incarnation, He's spirit.  A philosopher will tell you that he's fire or water, or that we're all a part of God, or that what we call God is actually a demi-God, subservient to a greater and supreme God, who is entirely beyond our understanding.  At least in this very last point about our understanding, they would be correct.  God is entirely beyond our understanding, because we reason about the things we encounter through our senses, and God is entirely beyond our senses, because He created both them and the entire world of physics which they sense.  John said that nobody has seen God at any time; Jesus said that if we'd seen Jesus, we'd seen the Father -- but not really.  The truth is that Jesus is really as close as we'll ever get to knowing God as He really is, because things beyond our senses are incomprehensible.  Saying otherwise is almost like asking your desktop to think beyond binary code, or asking a dog to hold a professorship at the Michigan Institute of Technology. 

And this is really the root of our theological problems: that God is revealing things to us that we wouldn't necessarily have reasoned to ourselves.  And this is the way it has to be.  Imagine if God were to speak, but only about the things we already knew: would this be revelation?  Or would it be mistaken for human reason?  I doubt that if this was the case we would be interested in revelation at all.  If God is speaking, we must either occasionally or frequently expect the inexplicable: if he says nothing unexplainable, or nothing beyond our limited capacity, then I think it would be safe to conclude that we're talking to a man who's hiding behind a curtain.  This is another reason I have trouble believing the Mormon testimony: because they not only constantly fail to prove the things that should be provable, but they attempt to explain the things that are inexplicable, which makes their God entirely expectable.  The Mormons say He was once one of us, a man: I think it's far more likely that a man had a difficult time explaining Jesus as anything more than one of us. 

So what do I really think of the theologians, you might be thinking?  I suppose I should tell you, so that you aren't left in total confusion as to whether they're heroes, villains, or simply obnoxious.  A theologian is a person who's dedicated himself to understanding something which is beyond his understanding, but about which he's been given some clues from a very reliable Source, through the imperfect and confusing medium of language.  A theologian is equally worthy of admiration and pity; of admiration because he's seeking after the most important and beautiful of all things, and of pity because I don't think he's ever really going to understand them until he dies.  The question we should be asking ourselves, is if in his pursuit of everything that is good, he's allowed himself to completely violate the commandments of his Lord and Savior, and of human charity in general.  For we know that whatever his profession, every Christian is a theologian; but not every theologian is a Christian.

My little angel, argue about how's and why's -- think and argue all day, and never stop.  But you can experience something great and not know how it works and still live with justice and mercy.  Although I'm certain many theologians would like to argue about whether justice or mercy is more important, or whether they're mutually incompatible, and if not, then when either should be applied to the prejudice of the other.

Your father,

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