You might look at our troubled world feeling that life is overwhelming at times and wonder what God is doing about it. Where is he when we need him? Does he have a plan for the planet’s environment, for tackling terrorism, for curtailing run away population growth? Alternatively is he not in control? Does he love us or is he angry? Whenever we talk about God, we are actually engaged in theology – ‘theos’ meaning God and ‘logos’ meaning word or reasoning. Therefore theology means the study of concepts of God and of the nature of religious ideas.
“Theology is an aspect of thought and conversation for all who live and breathe, who wrestle and fear, who hope and pray” (Kelly M. Kapic)
However, many people seem to be fed up with church creeds and theological doctrines telling them what to think and do. They sometimes see such writing as complicated, confusing and thoroughly irrelevant. You may just want the simple words of Jesus or the Buddha; not the head-in-the clouds religious lecturers and writers in theology with their long sentences and fancy terms. You may simply want to experience an inspiring presence deep within your soul rather than hearing about it second hand.
Philosophy and theology have so much to tell us about God, but people today want to experience God. There is a difference between eating dinner and merely reading the menu. (Dada Vaswani – Indian spiritual leader)
Influence of knowledge of theology
Eating the spiritual food is crucial. Nevertheless, selecting a dish from the menu is necessary before receiving the food; otherwise, you may end up with the wrong meal. Likewise I would suggest that the way you think about what goes beyond the material world – what has been called the transcendant realm of divine spirit – will affect what you feel.
How you think about God is bound to affect whether you have confidence and hope in a merciful and wise divine providence or dread of a powerful figure who dishes out harsh judgments. It will shape the personal image of whom you pray to. In addition it will influence your idea of the divine plan for your life.
If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones— bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. – C. S. Lewis
I would say that there is some mistaken theology still very much around. I realise that bad theology has justified terrible folly and horrible behaviour. How can I for example feel a divine presence that will gives me hope and confidence when I come across those Christians who still write about a punitive ‘Father’: one who required the terrible suffering of his innocent ‘Son’ Christ on the cross. Or for that matter those Islamist extremists who justify the death of masses of people in a so-called ‘holy war’ in the name of Allah.
Usefulness of knowing theology
I want to say that I have benefited from knowing about what religion has to say. I have learned from inspired sacred writing. Not having lots of information but rather what I have heard and read that has been illuminated deep within my mind. I’m trying to write about a deeper truth that goes beyond the ideas of the world.
Theologians write a lot about ‘salvation’ – some good and some, I believe, mistaken ideas. Nevertheless I’m concerned about theological ideas because I feel I need to be freed from the grip of self-interested thinking and some bad habits which I find difficult to shake off by my own efforts alone. If one questions how a higher power can save one from oneself, one is asking a theological question.
Talking of sacred writings, I think most readers would agree that there are many parts of the Bible which don’t make immediate sense. Yes, specific verses of the Bible are often obscure and even misleading. For example where a passage speaks of God being inflamed with hot anger and wanting to be destructive. One theological view is to say that God has a bad as well as a good side. However a more satisfactory interpretation in my view is to do with human projection. This can happen when we turn way from the God’s way and do what is selfish or cruel. We imagine that God is judgmental and angry with us because we ourselves get angry and judgmental with someone who goes against what we say. I think a correct theological view of God is one of wise love. Such a God would never feel angry or judgmental.
It is easy to misunderstand any one bit of the Bible when taken literally. For me general theological principles taken from the Bible as a whole illuminates the inner message.
…It may be recognized how many errors those people fall into who think of nothing beyond the literal sense when they read the Word, thus who read it without the aid of teachings drawn from the Word which show them what the real truth is.” (Emanuel Swedenborg – European 18th century theologian)
Enlightenment of knowledge of theology
I would suggest that theological knowledge is no use by itself. I feel that it is the actual application in daily life that brings about benefit as well as further depth of understanding.
There are … many among the inhabitants of hell who have been more expert in matters of doctrine than anybody else. But those who have led charitable lives are all in heaven. (Emanuel Swedenborg)
Using religious knowledge by keeping life as the end in view means for those who know about Swedenborg’s theology :
- Not just thinking about God as the Lord Jesus Christ – but developing a relationship with him person to person in honest prayer
- Not just reading about the delightful state of angelic life after death – but trying to live in that unselfish heavenly state whilst alive in the body.
- Not just inwardly acknowledging what is good and true – but actively seeking God’s help to follow this conscience.
Probably every culture in history has theologically distorted what has been claimed to be God’s word. Nevertheless in my opinion higher principles found in religious writing often do show a divine inspiration that transcends mere human prudence.
Copyright 2015 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author Heart, Head & Hands