Who needs theology? In other words, who needs to study God?
J.I. Packer poses this question because he thinks that this may be today’s popular attitude toward the study of God. Today, many just don’t find the study of God practical and relevant.
What good does it do to think about the God who made the world and the God who runs it? Surely we have more rudimentary things to consider than the Godhead? As I travel through life, it seems to me that most people just have enough trouble making enough money to live. Many folks have problems with earthly relationships so why worry about our relationship with God? Ruminating about God seems above our paygrade, so to speak.
Added to the impractical and irrelevant nature of the study of God study is the current attitude about God in the world today. People are even calling into question our image of God [not that we really know what God looks like]. The wizened man with the white hair and white beard that we saw on the childhood Sunday school classroom wall is not in fashion anymore. In a recent popular movie, God was a woman. In another conception, God was of African descent. Many today doubt the existence of God, spawning movies that declare that “God is Not Dead”, arguing through the characters in the film that God is real and He exists today. I have even been in some social situations where “God-talk” was discouraged, sometimes nonverbally and sometimes verbally. Bring up God and eyeballs roll in the back of the head or someone will say “I did not know we were going to have church today!”
Some would say that talk about God has no aim except to puff up someone’s ego. Knowledge of God can make one proud and conceited. This kind of knowledge can “intoxicate” us making, us think we are better Christians because we have a grasp on God and others around us don’t. This self-satisfied self-deception need not occur and I often wonder if this argument against theology is grounded in anti-intellectualism. Truly some people don’t want others to know more than they do; better for all of us to be less intelligent than for someone to challenge us with their increased desire for knowledge. That makes people who lack knowledge very insecure.
Let’s flip this argument around. Packer uses the image of the pilgrim in the classic book The Pilgrim’s Progress to make his point. On the road, the pilgrim puts his fingers in his ears and runs on down the road, crying “life, life, eternal life.” He is trying to stop his ears so he won’t hear others telling him there is no road to knowledge about God. Packer writes “anyone who is actually following a recognized road will not be too worried if the hears nontravelers telling each other that no such road exists.” His ears are plugged.
Why study theology?
While the study of God may humble us because it is an infinite subject, it may also expand our minds and for most of us, expansion of our intellect is not a bad thing; it is a good thing. Furthermore, Packer thinks the study of God is consoling. God is the balm that we need for every wound we suffer. In times of grief, God can comfort us. After rest, God can invigorate us. In times of weakness, God can give us guidance and strength we never knew we had.
Packer writes that to not know God is to live as a stranger in a strange world. “To live in this world without knowing about God whose world it is and who runs it [makes the world] a strange, mad, painful place and life in it is a disappointing and unpleasant business. …Disregard the study of God and you sentence yourself to stumble and blunder through life blindfolded, as it were, with no sense of direction and no understanding of what surrounds you. This way you can waste your life and lose your soul” [Packer, 19].
Citing the psalmist in Psalm 119, that person wants to know God for practical benefits. He felt that the more he understood God, the more he would understand God’s truth. The more he would be of service to God, the more God could lead him in his life. “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are those who keep His statutes and seek Him with all their heart.”
Truthfully Christians, we can present all the flimsy arguments against God we can think of but let’s go back to the opening question. Who needs theology? Who needs to study God?
Let’s be real…
We all do.