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Cathy Deddo
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These studies look at the overwhelming goodness of the Triune God. Depicted by Andrei Rublev's icon of The Holy Trinity.

Cathy's Reflections

By Catherine A. Deddo

Isn't Theology really just speculation?

"I like to think of God as..." Ever hear anyone say this? “I like to think of God as kind and loving”, “I like to think of God as not judging me”, “I like to think of God as kind of grandfatherly.” Somehow when we are dealing with God, people often don’t see the absurdity of these statements. We can recognize their fallacy when we use the same kind of thinking in relation to other people. I could say that “I like to think of my husband as being tall and blond”, but my thinking that way doesn’t add up to anything. He doesn’t become tall and blond just because I think of him that way. When people say they like to think of God a certain way, then what they are really saying is that they like a god who doesn’t really exist, who is on the same level as an imaginary friend. A god who merely lives in their heads.

I think that even as Christians we can be prone to do this--to believe in a god that is more a product of our thoughts or our fears. We start with ourselves (after all where else would you start?) and through our reason and perhaps comparing that with what others think, we try to work out what a “God” we can approve of might be like.

This may be why we are tempted to think that theology is not much better. It's just a bunch of ideas and concepts that intellectual people have thrown together, some times with the help of the Bible, some times not. Mere speculation, often abstract and disconnected with real life. But why go through all that effort if that's all you get? I can easily come up with my own favorite ideas and thoughts about God without going through all that rigamarole.

While much of what passes for theology isn't much more than that, it shouldn't be and doesn't have to be. That's bad theology (if it is theology at all) and no one should be interested in that. I have said that theology is the actual study of God and that it must begin with the “who” question. When begun that way we head off into a whole new direction. So, we're not just making up ideas and concepts and pictures of God as we please. But rather seek to know God as God really is.

So what's involved in the study of God, to discover Who God is? When I say study, I mean study like we do in the sciences! Real scientists don't just give us their favorite thoughts and speculations about how they'd prefer things to be. They don't just make up imaginary pet rocks. They find ways of describing how natural, created things really are. So how is theology a science?

Well, science, good science, must conform its study of an object to the nature of the object itself. In other words, the object under study must dictate how it is studied—otherwise you are not going to be able to come to any real understanding of your object. For instance, how you go about studying a rock would be very different than if you were going to study a human. You would not break the human down to its mineral components and believe you now understand humans. You can't learn much about the moon through a microscope. It takes a telescope (or traveling there if you can get there!) So, theology must be done in a manner that conforms to the One being studied, that is, God. You have to approach the divine Subject matter in a particular way and using the right "tools" if we are going to really known something about God.

Now you might be thinking, but God is not a rock. In fact God is not a piece of creation at all. You can't put God in a test tube. And you'd be exactly right. God, the Christian God, is not a material creature at all. So how can we study God? Well, only if God has made himself available to us to study, in time and space, where we live. We have to know God according to the way he has made himself knowable to us. Otherwise all we can do is speculate and make up ideas about our favorite view of God. But, at least in the Christian faith, we're not stuck like that. God has made himself knowable to us in a very particular time and place. In fact, in flesh and blood as well. God gave himself to be known in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God with us, Immanuel. Jesus is God's own self-revelation. This is part of what we mean by Christ's divinity. To know Jesus is to come to know the Father and the Spirit as well, to know the whole God. So the scientific way of knowing the Christian God is to know him at the exact place where God, who is not a creature, has revealed himself in time and space, in flesh and blood, in and through Jesus Christ within creation. Without this particular and personal self-revelation of God, we could not really know God. We could only speculate.

So, Christian theology has to start with the Christian God, the God who reveals Himself in His relationship with Israel and finally and most completely in Jesus Christ. Far from starting with us and trying to head out and find “God”, Christian theology is a response to the fact that the God who is, has come to us, has confronted us with Himself and revealed to us His character and purposes. Abram was not out looking for a god. He already had one. He was already worshipping the local moon goddess. God broke into Abram’s life. And notice that in the very act of speaking with Abram, God demanded a response. Abram had to respond to what he heard — he had no choice. He had to either reject or accept the proclamation and therefore, the God who proclaims.

In Christian theology, we are seeking to understand the God who is not a creation of our own imagination, or a product of our thinking or of the study of creation or other people's thoughts. But rather, we seek to understand and know the God who is utterly above and Other and yet who has come to us, has addressed us in person. Theology is the pursuit of seeking to understand who this God is who has spoken to us in Christ. Theology has been described, therefore, as “faith seeking understanding.” We are seeking to know, more and more and in particular, the heart, the character, of this God who reveals Himself and so confronts us in Jesus Christ. Theology, as the study of God, directs its "Who" question about God to Jesus Christ for that is the place where God has give us His answer to that question before we even asked.

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