My pastor once asked during a sermon: “Who would you turn to when your life hits rock bottom, the theological know-it-all or the person who embodies the love and compassion of Jesus?”
Some may say that one need not choose between the two, suggesting that an unrelenting, uncompromising dedication to the truth is the most loving thing you can do. My pastor was aiming at something entirely different.
If you get the truth that Jesus and his contemporaries were communicating, you’ll start to embody his love and compassion. In fact, transformation becomes far more important than indoctrination.
I won’t say I’ve hit rock bottom, but our family is in a challenging, isolating season. It has felt like ALL HANDS ON DECK for months now, and we have no guarantee that it’s going to end soon. In the midst of it, someone said to me, “Remember, we have a great God.”
I’m not sure that “remembering” theological statements in this season has been that helpful. I have been far more in need of God’s presence and empathy rather than intellectual guarantees. It’s a similar principle to the story of Job: when difficulty strikes, theologizing should never come before empathy and presence.
I’m not shutting down the “thinking” part of my faith, tossing out my theology books, or leaving my Bible unread. The big picture of my life doesn’t boil matters down to an either/or proposition between theology and love/empathy. Perhaps I’m reacting against a proposition-based, theologically-driven form of the Christian faith that mightily feared not having an answer for a particular situation.
When life becomes difficult, this fragile form of the faith grasps for answers and throws around truth as if the people in a difficult situation could pose a threat to the stability of Christianity. What if someone’s trouble demands an answer that a proposition-based faith can’t deliver?
More than propositions, Jesus came to give us God’s presence. The assumption is that seeking first his Kingdom and his righteousness will ensure that things work out in the end. If anything, Jesus disrupted the answers of theological systems without necessarily tossing out theology all-together.
Jesus pointed us to the place where we can find God’s presence and experience union with God. I have grown suspicious of anyone who wants to debate that point or inserts caveats.
As life feels uncertain, and challenges pile up, I have longed for God’s presence more than ever. The people I’ve turned to for prayer aren’t the ones with all of the answers. I’m taking my weakness and fear to the people who will pray with compassion and love. These are the people who know the Father’s heart and can intercede on my behalf as fellow beloved children of God. These are the people who happen to have a sound theology, so far as I can tell, but that is only because they have drawn near to the loving presence of God.
Read more about the basics of contemplative prayer and Christian spirituality in my latest book:
Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer
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