Monday, December 28, 2009

The Mind Boggleth: Bugs Bunny and the Nature of Theology

I once owned an old computer that simply couldn’t handle complicated programs. Anytime I tried to download software, it would whirl and buzz (I was going to add the word “smoke” here but that would have been artistic exaggeration). Finally the old computer would send a message to the screen: “inadequate capacity”.

That’s what we humans experience when we try to understand God: inadequate capacity.

The experience of hitting an intellectual wall can serve a very useful purpose in Christian life though. It can lead us to worship.

Discovering the limits of our intellect leads us to the door that opens us up to worship. The door is called humility, the most basic prerequisite for worship.

How can we really worship without humility?

Could we really worship a being that we totally understood? Wouldn’t such a “god” be anything more than human?

Would that “god” really be God?

Much of what passes for theology is just that: making a god in our own image; reducing the Creator to our own level of thought.

Such “theology” is useless and cannot lead us to worship.

Since worship is the central goal of theology, intellectual inquiry alone will not suffice. True theology is the fruit of a humbled intellect. A real theologian should be a saint, someone who is enlightened by God’s revelation through nature, human conscience, Holy Scripture and the communion of saints.

Without a doubt, the intellect is a vital component of spiritual walk. When ignorance reflects upon God it doesn’t get us anywhere good. Neither does an arrogant intellectual reflection upon God.

Christianity does not require us to park our brains outside the church. However, the intellect has its limits. We discover those limits when we try to understand the nature of God. We discover that we have “inadequate capacity.”

That discovery is what leads us to worship.

Worship leads us on to an authentic theology if we humbly apply our intellect to consider the implications of our faith.

Theology, then, is “faith seeking understanding.”

This approach to theology is certainly necessary when we ask questions about the nature of God.
We have been talking about the creeds and the early Christian formulations about how the One. True, God is at the same time Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

As Bugs Bunny once said, “the mind boggleth.”

Once the early church counsels agreed about how to describe God, you would think that things would have settled down!


We Christians can be a fractious lot.

That’s why there were more councils.

Each of the early councils struggled with questions about the nature of Christ.

Was Christ “God,” or a “god?”

Was Christ a human being, or did He only appear to be a human being?

Was God created, or had He always been?

After years of struggle, the councils determined that the Scriptures teach that Christ is both “fully God and fully man.” They were saying, in other words, that Christ had two natures, one human and one divine.

Christians believe that Jesus is God who became a human being.

In other words, Jesus is the visible manifestation of God.

The Bible expresses it in Hebrews 1:3 by saying that Jesus is God’s “expressed image.”

When we try to imagine God’s face, we see the face of Jesus. When we talk to God, we use the name of Jesus. “Jesus” is the name of authority through which we address the entire Godhead.

When we pray in Christ’s name then, we are addressing God.

Jesus is Emanuel, “God with us.”

The Holy Spirit is the most difficult “person” of the Godhead to describe.

Jesus spoke about Him from the very beginning of His ministry.

St. Luke’s gospel (1:35) records the angel telling Mary that she will soon be “overshadowed by the Spirit.”

The Bible describes the Holy Spirit as the creative force of God, God bringing life, action, even a certain sense of divine unpredictability into the universe and into human affairs.

As you think about the One and Triune God, perhaps you will find it helpful to think of the Father as “God above us,” the Son as “God with us,” and the Holy Spirit as “God inside of us.”

Or, you can think of God consisting of “One who loves,” “One who is loved,” and “One who is Love.”

The Lord is the “God who creates us,” the “God who redeems us,” and the “God who transforms us.”

Thankfully, a day is coming in which we will understand all of this much better. In this present life we hit intellectual walls.

That’s because God is God and we are not.

We should keep that in mind as we enter this New Year.

Many of us are reading the One Year Bible. We will begin in Genesis and St. Matthew’s Gospel and work our way through the entire text this year!

Keeping a good attitude about mystery, holiness and awe will help us as we wrestle with the words and meaning of the Holy Scriptures.

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