In Defense of Theology
by Mark Shea
"Wow!," said my friend, looking up from his science magazine, "Did you know DNA is folded into each cell nucleus in your body in a very precise and compact way? It says here it's like 30 miles of spider web thread carefully folded into a cherry pit!"
I think this sort of thing is amazing too. But what strikes me funny is that the same friends of mine who just love to read this sort of thing in science magazines think nothing of dismissing theology as just so much "angels on pinheads trivia". Religion, they say, should be simple, not complex. They say this because moderns imagine religious truth as an airy speculation, unconnected to "real life", which somebody got a bunch of people to buy into. That's why we think Christianity could be made simple if "The Church" wanted to make it so, but we never imagine DNA could be made simple if "The Scientists" wanted to make it so. We know that Science is constrained to describe what is actually there, not what scientists would like to be there. But we have somehow forgotten that Theology is under the same obligation.
Christianity is not something somebody made up. It began, not with philosophical speculation about angels and pins, but with a real life event that hit a bunch of people between the eyes and left them wondering, "What was that?" The event was the life, teaching, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. And Jesus came, not that we might have More Abundant Theory, but to bring the Kingdom of God with a power so frighteningly real that on more than one occasion he was politely requested to leave the premises. The apostles themselves did not know what to make of it at first. But Jesus forced them to face, not some abstraction, but Himself.
"Who do you say that I am?" he asked them. Different theories were kicked about. Jeremiah? John the Baptist back from the dead? None of these fit the data till Peter spoke up and offered not theory, but reality. "You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God," he said.
He was right. And he and the billion or so Christians after him have been engaged in one monumental exploration of the enormity folded into those ten words just as molecular biology is an exploration of the enormity deftly folded into a cell nucleus. All the meaning of life, the Eucharist, the doctrine of the Trinity, the dignity and destiny of the human person and the salvation of the world are folded up and compressed into Peter's words.
Which is why Christian theology has to be "complicated." Theology is the study of supernatural life just as biology is the study of natural life. We make no more sense demanding that Theology, the Queen of the Sciences, be simple than we do demanding that the cells be filled with a featureless jelly and not all those chromosomes, ribosomes and mitochondria. Nor do we do ourselves a favor by depriving ourselves of the sheer wonder and human dignity that is ours in the task of theology. You think the cell is cool? You should meet the One who invented it! You amazed by the size of the Universe? That's just peanuts compared to God! You think the adventurers who explored the Earth were interesting? Try the adventure of exploring Heaven! It is, says Proverbs, the "glory of kings" to search such matters out.
But most amazing of all is that this same God has folded his divine life into something smaller than a cherry pit, something smaller even than a mustard seed.
He has placed it in the heart of sinful people like you and me with a promise to make it grow until it fills heaven and earth.
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'Sheavings' reproduced with permission from Mark Shea
. Copyright © Mark Shea. All rights reserved.