Friday, August 14, 2015

Usefulness of Good Theology (Part 3)

            Recently I went to do some target shooting with hand guns. This is something I do occasionally with friends or family. While getting set up for the shooting practice someone noted that the use of a scope is not particularly helpful when attempting to hit a target that is close to you. For the scope is designed to assist the person using the firearm to see a target from a distance with clarity and thus be able to hit it. This is the functional usefulness of the optics of the scope. However, the power of the scope to focus on the image works against the shooter if the target is too close because the shooter ends up seeing only one small portion of the target and can easily lose sight of where on the target he or she is aiming the gun. Thus the shooter’s ability to accurately see the target is inhibited rather than enhanced by the use of the scope.  
Something like this happens to us humans when we utilize our own rational and emotional intelligence to analyze ourselves or deeply painful experiences (for example, in relationship to others). For we all are afflicted, by birth, with an internal “tunnel vision”. Unless someone (or perhaps the hardness of life circumstances) helps us to learn how to be attentive to and learn from the broader array of phenomena in life we will choose to isolate ourselves. Depending upon how we choose to handle the particulars of our experiences in life determines whether we make avoidance our aim or rather openness to exploring the reality of life in this world. And of course, if we make the avoidance of pain or hardship our aim in life then we will welcome the bondage of addiction to something.
The more money someone has the more likely they can and will retreat into a tightly controlled lifestyle that allows for the filtering out of information about the world as it actually is. And for those who do not have the luxury of self-isolation that wealth affords there is always the attraction of alcohol, drugs, and illicit sexual experience to distract from the personal pain and actual hardships of life. The internal psychological dynamics are the same regardless of differences in social status, wealth, intelligence or any other category one may care to use to distinguish between people.
The 16th century reformer Martin Luther said that human nature is “bent in on itself.” This observation and phrase is both profound and helpful. What he was capturing with this phrase is simply the human dilemma which our internal orientation toward sin and actual choices to sin have formed. We cannot see beyond ourselves and our own self-interest unless somehow we learn to stand up straight and “see” ourselves, God and the world as it actually is. This is where the usefulness of “good theology” meets the existential need of the human heart: We are told by revelation what we would otherwise not know about ourselves (or certainly not admit honestly) and challenged to fundamentally change our perspective and way of life. And the presentation of truth makes us accountable before God when we stand at the final Day.
The Apostle Peter wrote, “If you invoke as Father the one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile.” (1 Peter 1:17, NRSV) This is a statement of practical theology rooted in the teaching of the Scriptures. Peter’s point, it seems to me, is that we need to make good use of the truth we know by living by faith in “reverent fear” of the living God. In contrast, the wicked person has no fear of God (and thus no faith) and thus lives only for him or herself—at the expense of other human beings and even to their harm. But those who claim to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ have no right to do this—for they have been bought by the blood of the Lamb for God (Revelation 5:9-10)
There are some things in our life experience that are so plain and obvious that we tend to overlook them entirely. For example, sunsets, rainstorms, flowers, mountains, people walking past on a crowded street, etc. For those who study the Bible the exhortations to practice good theology (truth) are overlooked because we do not want to hear this. Though this is a primary thread woven throughout Scripture how many of us actually hear and heed this teaching? How often do we get lost in the grass, so to speak, of the details of biblical texts (or challenging questions we seek specific answers to in Scripture)?

The practice of truth (1 John 3:18) is rooted in a faith filled response to the revelation given in Scripture. “The way of the LORD is a stronghold for the upright, but destruction for evildoers.” (Proverbs 10:29, NRSV) Truth is given in order for us to live in God every day and every moment of life on earth. To practice the truth necessitates learning to love God and obey God’s voice, and thus be transformed in one’s inner person. The expression of this actually happening will be loving others from the heart (1 Peter 1:22).

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