I like theology.
Allow me to address a few semantics, at least as I see them – to me, there is theology on a broad scale, which is simply the study of God. That’s what, as some people preach, every Christian is. If you are a Christian, it means you’re interested in God, you read the Bible, you worship Him, and you want to know Him – meaning you’re a God-student.
But then there’s theology as, shall we say, a construct. Theology as a construct is what I’ll use to say things like seminary, doctorates in divinity, the academic side of God-study. This is the type of theologian that most people are not. This is not usually what I mean by theology.
Now that that’s out of the way…
I like theology a lot. I like theology as a construct. I don’t study it that way, but there’s something about when people devote their lives to studying it for an intellectual understanding that attracts me a lot. Theology is uniquely emotional and intellectual for me – there is nothing else I can think of that engages both aspects of my being quite like theology. Music engages my emotions, but not so much my intellect. I’ve tried to approach it intellectually, but to no avail.
Literature and film engage my intellect, but rarely my emotions.
But theology – it has a way of doing that.
I guess by theology, I mean the Bible in general.
I get caught up on phrases like this…
“When He ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”
He (Jesus) led captivity captive.
Captivity was His captive.
On one hand, that blows my mind – captivity, as a concept, is Jesus’ captive. Captivity, which is defined as “the state or period of being held, imprisoned, enslaved, or confined.” Its synonyms include slavery, imprisonment, confinement, etc.
Jesus enslaved slavery.
Jesus confined confinement.
Jesus imprisoned imprisonment.
With Jesus, death died.
And Jesus released freedom.
It’s one thing for my intellect to (attempt to) grasp those concepts, but it’s another for my heart to taste that.
When my heart tastes that, it leaps with joy and sings.
Grace means that it can take us a very long time to grasp the truth – because no matter how long it takes us to grasp it, we are covered in the interim. Grace means that we are forgiven, whether we know it or not. It means our forgiveness isn’t contingent upon our understanding.
I rejoice in this because lately, my job has been just that: understanding I’m forgiven [and isn’t it all of our jobs, as children? this wrestling match between me and my forgiveness hasn’t stopped since day one, really.]
Lately I’ve found myself thinking about the year 2015, or what I refer to (indefinitely, as you’ll soon see) as The Year Without God. I attended church in spurts, yes – but it was largely a year without God.
It was a year of anger, selfishness, passion, fear, anxiety, depression, loneliness, high highs and low lows, dependency, abandonment, losing my temper, living excessively, etc. And in the midst of that, I made memories and mistakes that seem hard to forget. It’s hard to forget losing my temper when I got stressed out, because I can so easily be stressed again. The voice of condemnation always seems to pop up in such moments and say, “you are an angry person – you are not like Jesus. You are not a Christian.” It’s hard to forget self-indulgence in a relationship which leads to dependency, which leads to anxiety, which leads to fear and trepidation, which leads to stress, which leads to fracture, abandonment, and depression. It’s hard to forget how all of that feels.
And as hard as it is to forget, it is hard to remember some of the good.
It is hard to remember who I am. It is hard to remember my days of preaching, when I read and proclaimed the Bible confidently, regularly, and joyfully. It is hard to remember my days of godly community, when everyone had the same goal, the same means, and the same love for Jesus.
But what I’ve found is this: He gives more grace (see: Ephesians 4:7, James 4:6.)
He gives grace like water on a hot summer day – when you take one gulp of water and you’re not satisfied, then another, then another, then another, then another, then another, until your thirst is finally quenched, and whether or not we realize it, temporarily so.
My heart and flesh – your heart and flesh, Christian – cries out for the living God (see: psalm 84:2, etc)
He gives grace in every mention of His name, in every (albeit rare) thought that we have of Him. He gives grace in every opening of the Word, He gives grace in every prayer whispered with anywhere from a gram to a metric ton of doubt infused.
He gives grace.
That’s the whole point.
Because, you see – that very captivity that we think hinders us from the presence of God, that very jail cell we think ourselves in which we believe keeps our prayers from reaching His ears – that captivity is Jesus’ captive. That prison is imprisoned by Christ Himself.
It’s a dichotomy that I fail to fully grasp, it is like a panorama that I am trying to take in frame by frame – that somehow even in the grasp of the Father’s hand, we are able to suffer, and yet in the midst of our suffering, we are under His tender grace. We suffer and are kept at the same time. We abandon Him and we are not ourselves abandoned, we curse Him and yet we ourselves are not cursed, we suffer consequences but oh, friends – we do not suffer punishment. The second-to-last word of God is judgement, but the last word of God is
Jesus doesn’t even dignify our captors, He doesn’t respect our detractors, He doesn’t acknowledge our nay-sayers (namely guilt, shame, failure.) He doesn’t dignify them in that He doesn’t view us through them – God’s opinion of us does not remain at the lens of sin, but it goes through the lens of grace which is powerful enough to acknowledge the power of sin only long enough to positively obliterate it.
That’s what grace is.
That’s who God is.
That’s what He’s like.
He’s the Captor of captivity.
The Shamer of shame.
The Destroyer of destructor.
The Judge of judgement.
The Jailor of imprisonment.
The Exiler of exile.
The Releaser of release.
The Freer of freedom.