About two years ago, I went to my annual eye exam and was told that my vision required the use of bifocals. I found this to be an odd diagnosis because while my eyes were tired after reading, for the most part, I could see quite well. However, I went to an “expert,” and I figured he knew better than I. After I got my new glasses, however, I could not see as clearly as I could without wearing glasses. When I told people of this problem, they replied that I just needed to get used to them. So, I gave it about another week before going back to the eye doctor with my complaints. When I went back to him, I got a new eye exam, and he told me that he gave me the wrong prescription and that I did NOT need bifocals. I was both relieved and frustrated. I was relieved because it confirmed what I knew, and frustrated because it was costly for time and resources.
In reflecting over this experience, I cannot help to think that this is the process by which many of us develop our theology. The dictionary defines “theology” as the “study of the nature of God and religious belief.” Most of the time we are given a theology, like a prescription, by an “expert.” The experts that we rely upon are our family, clergy, media, etc. We rely on their "expertise" in helping us sort out our theology. Once we get our prescribed theology, we may not be comfortable with questioning the diagnosis. However, the prescribed theology is just like a pair of glasses, in that it can enhance or distort our view of the world. We are ultimately responsible to question and seek the right diagnosis, especially if we notice that there is not a good fit, regardless of our how others may want us to just accept it.
In thinking about my religious upbringing, I was not taught or encouraged to question matters of faith. It shouldn’t surprise you that I remember my pastor getting frustrated with me when I started questioning him in youth group. He replied to my questions that I was just “being difficult.” However, I did have questions that were not being answered. I was told to take the glasses of others and put them on to perceive matters of faith—and it just did not fit! Perhaps the “theological glasses” fit for them, but it did not fit for me. I had questions and continue to have questions concerning theology, but I have learned that I must challenge the lenses I have been given to understand theological matters—because the lens might not fit.
In Philippians 2:12, Paul instructs us to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Theological matters are works in progress that requires us to work at seeing things clearer. It is always alarming to me when people are so confident in theological matters, especially given what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 13:12 (AMP): For now [in this time of imperfection] we see in a mirror dimly [a blurred reflection, a riddle, an enigma], but then [when the time of perfection comes we will see reality] face to face. Now I know in part [just in fragments], but then I will know fully, just as I have been fully known [by God]. We are in the process of receiving progressive revelations of God’s truth and we do not see it clearly at first. It takes time to see it clearly and the only way for it to happen is for us to get closer to Jesus, who is our light and our truth.
Jesus is the LIVING WORD! Jesus illuminates the meaning of the scripture that shapes our theology. In Mark 8:22-25, we read about Jesus healing a blind man at Bethsaida. Jesus heals him, but the change in his vision takes time. After Jesus spits in the man’s eyes and put’s his hands on him, the man opens his eyes and sees, but not clearly. Jesus lays his hands on his eyes again and it says, “Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.” The man could have been content with being able to see distortions, after all this was better than being blind; however, he went back to the great physician to see clearly! Think about the stages we see in the passage: before Jesus the man was blind, the first healing restored sight, and the last healing truly opened his eyes! I can’t help but to think how we are like the blind man and how many of us are walking around with distorted vision, distorted theology, because we think we are seeing clearly because an expert told us that this is how it is. But what if we have the wrong lenses through which we are viewing God and His leading. The Pharisees had the wrong lens and it resulted in them missing out on embracing Jesus. He states in John 5:39, “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me.” In other words, the only way to read the scriptures is through the lenses of Jesus.
One final note about lenses and theology. Most of us should go for an eye exam every year because our vision changes as we get older. The old glasses don’t work as well as they used to and we need an adjustment in our lenses. Likewise, matters of faith will change as we get older. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” It is good and healthy to challenge the lenses through which we perceive theological matters, as well as matters of the world. One of the things that I appreciate about international travel is to see the world through a different cultures perspective. I enjoy dialoguing with those of other faith perspectives because I value the opportunity for an “I” exam, as my beliefs, assumptions, and attitudes are challenged. I value my religious upbringing; I just wish they encouraged me to challenge “my vision” by openly questioning “their vision.” May we be a community that invites questions and embraces the mystery of faith. While we look at things through different lenses, we, like Paul, resolve to know only one thing with certainty--Jesus Christ and His crucifixion for us (1 Corinthians 2:2).
Dr. Rob Weinstein is an Associate Professor of Business Studies/ Chair of Human Resource Management Studies. He is the Founder and President of the M25 Initiative, a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness in Cumberland County, NJ. He is also the Founding Pastor of Bethany Grace Community Church in Bridgeton, NJ.
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