Thursday, September 2, 2010

Humility before God

There is an arrogance in theologians and in theology which increasingly troubles me.  Theo-logos, word about God, is human speech and thought and song and life centered on the reality of God in the world.  But surely we should speak, sing, write, live such theo-logy with deep humility and awareness that we are not God, nor can we ever truly define or encompass the reality of God in this world, let alone the universe.

The strange thing, I suppose, is that I am called and ordained to be a minister of Word and Sacrament, and that first part means I am one who is constantly called to do theology, to speak of God.  I don't preach sermons and fill them with disclaimers or caveats.  At least most times I don't.  We who are baptized into Christ and shaped by the Scriptures, by worship, by our sisters and brothers in faith, believe that there are truths and realities God has revealed to the world in the person of Jesus, and we are called to proclaim these things to each other and to the world.  The very idea that God is incarnate among us in the person of Jesus and now continues that incarnation through the Holy Spirit in each one of us implies that each of us speaks on God's behalf, is an ambassador for God (for good or for ill) to the world.

I accept that.  I still preach.  I write.  I sing.  I think.  It's what we do as Christians, and what I do as a pastor in Christ's Church.

I just think that while we speak we might want to keep a deep humility about us.  I posted this on a friend's blog, but it's worth remembering the words of Oliver Cromwell (who could have used a modicum of humility himself) to the Presbyterians of Scotland in 1650:  "I beseech you in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken."  Again, Cromwell might not have lived this, and it's likely it wasn't intended as a universal specific.  But I feel free to make it mine, and offer it to others here.  We might avoid future inquisitions, crusades, intifadas, cross-burnings, and other horrors including excluding people from our fellowship if we kept in mind that whatever we think about our theology, God ultimately will be God and will reach people and do what God wants to do, even if it doesn't fit our theology.

I think what I'm saying is that we Christians, like many other faiths, believe we have received a revelation from the God who made all things.  We Christians believe this God is fully known to us as Triune - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - which we have come to believe primarily because of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of the Son of God, Jesus.  We did not come up with this on our own, or so we claim, rather God found us, God sought us, God chose us (see Genesis 12 and following, John 15.)  Which means we are people who believe that the Logos of God, the Word of God for this world, became human flesh, one of us, and showed us the full truth about God, or at least the truth about God we need to know.  We can argue, we can postulate, we can try to discern.  We can write, sing, speak, live what we believe.  But ultimately only God can be God.

The challenge, I think, is that in faith, through the Church, in Word and Sacrament, with sisters and brothers helping, we learn to follow the Logos, not our own theology.  We learn to listen to God's continuing revelation together in the Spirit through all these means and gifts.  We pray together, read Scripture together, and listen together, and yes, sometimes speak. But always with this in mind: we might be wrong.  We might make mistakes about God's intention, God's nature.  In fact, as broken humans, nothing is more likely.  If we can keep that humility, then we can truly engage in listening to what God is actually saying and doing among us, even if it doesn't fit our labels and boxes.  That seems like a worthy goal of theology, in fact.  But, of course, I might be wrong.


  1. That is an excellent post, Pastor Joseph. Humility in admitting that we might be wrong in our theology is a tough pill to swallow, but it is desperately needed (in this country, at least).

  2. I enjoy the intellectual exercise of reading what might be called "academic theology." Your musings challenge me with, "Why?" I think the best written theology offers two important things: 1) An offering to God, like a prayer; and 2) A contribution to the human conversation sometimes known as "philosophy," or "philosophy of life." Perhaps we can say of theology what one of my professors said of theories of the atonement: "They are right in what they affirm and wrong in what they deny."

    Martin Luther said, "After every sermon the preacher should fall on his knees and ask God to forgive him for what he's just done." (If he didn't say it, he should have.)