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Entries in Theology (13)


Women, know your limits!

That is the title of a very funny video. You should watch it. That's not exactly what this post is about, though.

One of the doctrines we discussed in my theology class last semester was the doctrine of humanity. We are not God. We are not immanent nor are we transcendent. We are neither all-powerful nor self-sustaining. That is who we are by design.

In the context of the doctrine of humanity, our textbook talked about the reality of our limitations. Erickson says:

Limitation is not inherently bad. There is a tendency to bemaon the fact of human finiteness. Some, indeed, maintain that this is the cause of human sin. If we were not limited, we would always know what is right and would do it. Were humans not encumbered by finiteness, they could do better. But the Bible indicates that having made the human with the limitations that go with creaturehood, God looked at the creation and pronounced it "very good" (Gen. 1:31). Finiteness may well lead to sin if we fail to accept our limitation and live accordingly.

Later, Erickson adds: "Proper adjustment in life can be achieved only on the basis of acceptance of one's own finiteness." 

I found that principle very thought-provoking. The implications of this are significant. Accepting our own finiteness means we need not feel the pressure to be perfect. We don't need to feel the pressure to always be right. We women talk a lot about not needing to be perfect. Will we ever understand that fully without a complete understanding of our finiteness?

Tis the season for resolution making. Goals are good things, but as we make them, we do need to recognize our limitations. One of my closest and oldest friends lost her son in November. This woman is one of the most godly women I know; truly a woman saturated in Scripture; truly a woman who consciously participates in her own sanctification, always desiring to grow in the Lord. She did not plan to grow in the ways which lie ahead, and which are a direct result of this loss. I may want to become better organized in 2017, but God may have other plans for me. I may want to read X number of books in 2017, but God, being unlimited in his knowledge, may know that something else is far better for me. Our plans are not always God's plans.

I wonder if some of the frustration we often feel at our circumstances is because we resist the limitations which are part of our own nature. It is not part of our current culture to suggest that one is limited. We can "do anything." Humans can do many things, but they are not God. Scripture reminds us: 

Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite (Ps. 147:5).
Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable (Ps. 145:3).

God is infinite and unsearchable, but we are not. And that is okay.

I am not really a resolution-maker. The goals I have are fairly general. What I do want to focus on, though, is the implications of my finiteness. It seems to me that being able to rest in God is intimately connected to accepting that reality. It doesn't mean I must be passive, but it does mean I need to know my limits.


Stop the world, I want to get off!

Have you felt like that? I think we all have. This past few weeks, I've felt it acutely. Fortunately, for those who belong to Christ, we will get out of this world, and a new one will be ushered in. In my Augustine class, on November 4, we talked about City of God, and the discussion about the Kingdom of God and what that entails was so encouraging.

And then the U.S. election happened; and all that entails. You know what I mean; the rancor, the condescension, the crowing of the victorious, and the despair of the defeated. I know the truth of the ultimate ruler of the universe. I know the eschatological hope. But my heart goes out to those who honestly fear what will happen. There has been a fair bit of jeering (and some if it is deserved) toward those who are very fearful of what is to come, but I wonder how many of those people are minorities. My kids live in a very multi-ethnic city, and they have friends from many different backgrounds, and the fear is real. I am reluctant to mock fear. 

It does feel like the world has gone crazy. When people I once respected reveal an ugly side, it bothers me. It also makes me re-evaluate myself. Have I come across like that? Lord, I hope not. I am torn between wanting to rant at the top of my lungs or retreat entirely.

We are so distracted by the world around us. Things are enticing. We end up wasting time, partaking of the mundane, the ultimately useless. "Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things" (Ps. 119:37). How much of our time is spent on things that are of no eternal value? And how many of those are dressed up as if they are "Christian?" Sometimes, I feel as if Christian commentary is more about pop culture or politics than Christ. Yes, I know we have to engage with those things, but honestly, I don't see a lot of good coming from either location. Some of it is not worth engaging.

We are studying the origins of humanity in my theology class. This has led to a discussion of being made in the image of God means. You see that phrase a lot these days, done up in Latin for good measure: Imago Dei. I thought that the few things I'd read on the subject were useful. Millard Erickson digs deep, and asks questions I have never thought of. This encourages me in a world where I want to get off. I encourages me to ponder who God is, and by extension, who I am. This is comfort to me. And quite serendipitously, much of the course material in Augustine is dovetailing with the theology class. I'm reading Augustine's book on the Trinity. Those ancient writers knew how to ponder God well.

I've also picked up The Valley of Vision for another read, and I'm following along with a daily reading schedule that I got from Joe Thorn's blog years ago. I want to ponder God more deeply. In the face of a crazy world, he is the one to whom we turn. Only he will suffice. He is our hope. Looking to people, things, and earthly kingdoms will only provide the most fleeting hope.

I do want to get off this world, whenever God ordains that to be. It often discourages me to think about what the future holds for my kids and their kids, but I guess I'm not the first woman to ponder such a quesion. All I can do is rejoice in the Lord, see his goodness, be grateful in the small things, and cling to the hope of the coming kingdom.


Affliction is one of God's medicines

Clearly that sentiment would not be very popular today. Even in some Christian circles, afflictions are seen as more inconvenient than anything. But there was a time when life spans were shorter, illnesses weren't so easily dealt with, and struggle was more frequent in the everyday lives of people. We live in an age when affliction is seen as an interloper, not a part of life.

There I was last Friday night with my two assignments for Dr. Haykin's class, completed and freshly printed, waiting to be handed in the following day. I was in my flannel jammies, with plans to sit in front of the television and watch Shetland. I was excited about the next day, which also included my son's engagement party. I decided to play with the puppy for a while to tire him out. Two hours later, I was in the E.R., after a bumpy amublance ride, with a dislocated and fractured ankle. After having the dislocation fixed and the leg stabilized, I was sent home with Percocet, and told to report to the fracture clinic the next morning. By late Sunday afternoon, I had gone through surgery, was out of recovery, and equipped with some hardware in my ankle. 

It was not the weekend I had planned.

Yes, this throws a monkey wrench in my plans.

Someone asked me if I was sorry I got the puppy in the first place. I'm pretty sure people without puppies break limbs. In fact, as I saw the surgeon, I was reminded that this was my third break in three years (get the calcium and weight bearing exercises going!). I didn't get to my class. I'm not getting to my other class today. I will resume school duties next week, but my poor husband is run ragged at the moment making tea, doing laundry, and ensuring that I don't fall face first off my crutches.

This is minor in the grand scheme of things. I can look forward to healing at some point. There are people who will never walk again. I'm not going to complain. I'm thankful for a husband who has a job which allows him to take time for me. I'm thankful for friends who bring soup and buns and cake. I'm thankful for family who bring food. I'm thankful for kids who come to help out. I'm thankful for a friend who is a hairdresser and will come and pick me up to cut my hair.

It's so easy to think that we're blessed when we're swimming along nicely. We feel like we're on top of the world. And when trouble comes our way, we get disgruntled. I don't like having to sit on my rear end all day. I don't like not being able to go out with my dogs and run. But this could be so much worse. Yes, it's a bummer, but it's not that bad.

A good friend sent me some words from J.C. Ryle:

Affliction is one of God's medicines. By it he often teaches lessons which would be learned in no other way. By it he often draws souls away from sin and the world, which otherwise would have perished everlastingly. Health is a great blessing, but sanctified disease is a greater.Prosperity and worldly comfort is what all naturally desire; but losses and crosses are far better for us if they lead us to Christ.

I have no idea why this happened other than I need to remember that I'm not 25 years old anymore and running through the house is perhaps not recommended. The reading for my theology class this week focused on God's governing activity. I am reminded that God's governance over my life, and in fact over all the unviverse is good. This is a bad thing to have happened, that is for sure. But God is still good. Theology is so very practical!

By the end of the day, after navigating the house with my crutches, and managing pain, I will be tired, and probably cranky. But God is still good. And I want to remember this truth.


The theological spiral

I had my first class yesterday in Theological Foundations. I am really going to like it. The prof has a very dry wit, which I appreciate. He's also a seasoned teacher; at 70 years of age, he has been doing this for a while. 

Yesterday, in addition to being introduced to one another and the subject matter, we discussed some of the objections to studying theology as well as devising a method for doing theology. Some of the objections were:

"The Bible is enough -- I don't need theology."

"Theology is impractical -- give me something life-related."

"The diversity of opinion among theologians shows that firm conclsions are impossible anyway."

"Doctrine divides, but experience unites."

"Theology is incomprehensible."

I've heard all of those objections, but most frequently the first one. Of course, we discussed the objections to those statements. 

One of the things I most appreciated about our time together yesterday was the reminder for intellectual humility. We really don't know it all, and while truth is not changing, we as humans are, and our reception of it may look different. On our course, notes, there was an interesting passage about the theological spiral. I thought this was interesting in light of Grant Osborne's book The Hermeneutical Spiral. I like the image of a spiral to discuss learning:

The theological spiral continues: we come to doctrinal conclusions based on our reading of the biblical texts, then this doctrinal perspective informs our reading of biblical texts, but at some point we may notice that we are continually explaining away the texts, which then leads to a revised or clarified doctrinal position, and that new perspective informs our reading of the texts . . . . 

Our readings of Scripture are always reforming and growing. It doesn't mean, however, that we never land on a particular position; rather, we are humble enough to entertain the prospect that we don't know it all.

I was also very grateful for the discussion of looking at the historical development of doctrine. We were reminded that we were not the first people to attempt to evaluate doctrine and express theology. One of the things I continue to see is how much I don't know. I am regularly confronted with instances of being asked to think about different implications, and it's good to be challenged.


React, critique, build

This is a rather random post this morning. I'm enjoying the sound of the much-needed rain falling. 

I was thinking about change; specifically how I've changed in the past few years. Some might say I've changed for the worse. I'm attending seminary, which some think I shouldn't do. I am willing to read opposing views on issues, which some say I shouldn't do. I've had a few critiques of complementarianism, which some have come to see as an indication that I'm becoming "liberal." 

I was looking back over the past fifteen years, pondering the growth (or lack, I suppose) in my Christian life. Much of my growth has come as I have explored Reformed theology. Much of my growth has come as I've learned a lot about studying God's word and deriving theology from it. Much of it has come from simply watching others. Sometimes, my thought processes have been similar to a crusade. I can distinctly remember times in the past when every morning, I was still thinking and churning over an issue. I will (with embarrassment) admit to actively participating in dialogue before having a full understanding of the matter. And there are times when I've just had to be silent; although those silent times are probably not frequent enough.

I think my growth in Christ has followed a three part path: I react to something, I critique it and investigate it, and then I build. This is how I was when I discovered Reformed theology. I purchased a book called Grace Unknown (which is now called What is Reformed Theology?) by R.C. Sproul. I wanted to learn about grace, hence my purchase of the book. I had no idea that what I read would change everything. I did react to these new teachings. I was bothered by some. Sometimes, the newly converted are the most vocal, and I did a lot of critique. I was likely not charitable about things, and I'm sure I came across as beating a dead horse and banging the same drum far too often. I think that's what we do when we come across something that shakes us up.

And then we build. That's when we have to stop banging the drum and do the hard work of understanding. That may involve time apart from the sound of others' similar sounding drums. There is such benefit in sitting down and immersing ourselves in what we don't understand and unraveling things.

At times, I am tempted to sigh with frustration when I see others in that critique stage, where every word out of their mouths is an impassioned critique. I certainly don't have to read that person's writings. And I need to be gracious, because I think there are times when we have to go through that. I do find that as I get older, I want to critique less and less because being in the build phase is so much easier. It takes energy to critique, to be fired up about something. I am finding more pleasure in expending that energy on the build phase. I have also found (to my detriment) that seminary and involvement in the latest controversy don't mix well. The paper I wrote this past semestser on John's use of Isaiah would have benefitted greatly from avoiding social media during the recent Trinity debates.

There are times when we do need to dismantle things and evaluate. But we also have to spend the time building. When we point out discrepancies, we do need to have in the back of our minds at the very least, a way forward. It does no good to tell others "don't do this!" or "don't read that!" if we're not willing to give guidance to what they should do or should read. We need to build. The critique part is easy, but building takes work.