Jess’ piece yesterday raised an interesting point about the connection between theology and prayer. Further to that post, I wanted to share some thoughts of my own.
God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son, whom he Hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high: being made so much better than the angels, as He hath by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.
-Hebrews 1:1-4 (KJV)
We need theology and the Holy Scriptures, from which our theology is derived. Theology helps us to understand Christ better and to know how we should act. But Christ is our Creator and our Saviour, and He is the way to the Father.
In the earliest days after conversion it is common for Christians in the West, where resources tend to be more easily available, to read the Scriptures seriously and to seek guidance for understanding them (commentaries; catechisms; etc). As time goes on, a theology emerges.
The Christian who is dedicated to pursuing truth will refine his theology in the fires of experience and discipline. Simplistic readings of complex passages may be expanded or rejected.
Many will also wish to read the whole of the Bible and to memorise key passages. They embark on plans to read the Bible during the course of a year, and with time, passages become familiar and are easily recognised when cited by others.
These things are good – but they also run into challenge. As the Christian matures, he will be exposed to doubts, which are part of God’s process for testing and refining our faith. The great figures of the Bible demonstrate these pains and concerns at the low points of their lives. Elijah wished to “lie down and die”, because he believed he was the last one in Israel loyal to Yahweh. Without wishing to cast aspersions on his character, one wonders if this was not simply despair at the weakness and wickedness of humanity. Was there doubt in God somewhere in his heart?
St Paul wrote, “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10, KJV). The context of this passage is external pressures, rather than inward doubts, but it lays out a central point of St Paul’s theology: we are not alone.
It is Christ – through the ministry of the Holy Spirit – who carries us, who strengthens us when we are weak. When, in spite of all things, we make it through, it is Christ who has achieved victory in us, and it is Christ who is glorified, to the glory of God the Father.
It is Christ who carries us, and we lay hold of Christ by faith. Theology is tested, but Christ remains.
“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”
-1 Corinthians 13:13
Oh, Nicholas! Beautiful article! Luke 21:36 – pray always.
I’m in three Bible study classes across America, thanks to Zoom; our church’s Sunday morning study, a Wednesday morning study from Georgia, and a Wednesday evening study from New Hampshire. Now I’ve joined a group of priests and folks discussing philosophy and theology – way over my head, I suspect, but worth taking a stab at. I’m reminded of St. Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch – we can do much on our own understanding but unless someone ‘opens the Scriptures’, we’re apt to go off in the wrong direction.
You’re absolutely correct, of course – Christ remains.
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“Faith, hope, charity,” Malta, dead ahead, Sir! OK, it’s a joke and a weak one even on Monday morning, but it’s also an example of how pervasive the Bible was in our public life, even as recently as the 40s.
To the rest, faith comes and goes, to some extent in each of us. The Bible and studying it can help to a point, but the only real help is God’s grace in allowing such poor examples as us to believe in Christ. But you know, we really have to only believe one thing. God does not lie, and He said, “I baptize you in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Thus we were saved, and only have to return to that baptism, which we do in repentance and Eucharist. Not that that is easy.
Not for nothing did GKC state “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
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Thank you for this thoughtful post, Nicholas. It reminds us of something needful, namely that life is a pilgrimage and that as we journey on, if we read and pray, we grow, and as we grow, we learn, and as we learn, we change. Change is not to be feared, it is a sign of growth.
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the Christian life is a pilgrimage! And it’s not personal one or a personal Jesus. It’s communal journey with our fellow adopted sons and daughters of God. The prophet Isaiah speaks of judgment that pertains with a top focused approach on ritualism and I’d venture to tie that into this idea of personal Jesus ideal. Orthodoxy and Orthopraxy—the law of prayer should compel one toward justice( Isaiah) and mercy (Jesus) the desire of God.
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