I love theology. I love studying theology, talking about theology, and wrestling with challenging theological ideas. So much of my walk with God has revolved around theological topics. In fact, I’d say most of my college experience has been an intellectual growth with God. And yet, loving theology is risky.
It’s risky because you can study all of Scripture, know every single verse, and yet completely miss Jesus.
I’ve been reading through John’s Gospel the past couple of weeks and last night I noticed something in chapter 5. Normally I read Scripture to see what’s happening and what’s there. Only when I understand the context combined with the text do I then try to apply it to my life. But last night I read Jesus’ words as if they were addressed to me. I read it as if I was a Pharisee.
He has some harsh words for the religious elite in chapter 5: “[God’s] voice you have never heard, [God’s] form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you,” (vv. 37b-38a). Ouch. In Jesus’ day, telling the religious leaders that they do not know God would be like the popular pastors of our day being told they don’t really know God. It’s a verbal slap in the face, to say the least.
These leaders devoted their entire lives to the study, practice, and interpretation of the Torah, and yet they completely missed out on what’s most important: knowing and loving God.
It makes me pause a little; it makes me stop and think about where I’ve devoted most of my time and energy in my pursuit of God. All the books and blogs I read and all the sermons I watch are great, but am I neglecting the cultivation of a quality and genuine relationship with God? Am I instead feeding the inner Pharisee?
Even though many Christians do not appreciate the biblical scholars (especially the ones in those pesky “liberal” universities), I do. In fact, I’d have to say that it’s because of the Bible scholars that I’m so passionate about God. The world of biblical/theological studies has been a liberating world for me; it has shown me the beauty and freedom in seeking God without having to rely on man-made doctrines. I can truly love God with all my mind in the scholarly world. And yet, it’s crucial that I continue to view the scholarly world in this light; anything more and I might drift from Jesus.
A little later in John 5, Jesus says to the religious elite, “I know that you do not have the love of God within you,” (v. 42). In the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke), Jesus declares that loving God is the greatest commandment (Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27). In Matthew, He goes on to say that, along with loving others, the entire Law – all of the Torah – hinges upon loving God. In John 5:42, he blatantly tells the religious leaders that they do not have it, thereby telling them that they have forsaken the entire Law. All their piety was a waste.
Our thoughts, ideas, opinions, beliefs all matter to God and are all part of a major way in which we interact with Him. But it’s dangerous to let all those take the place of God; where knowing all the right doctrines, dogmas, and theologies is the most important thing. Verse 39 is Jesus’ most powerful message; “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.”
Loving God and others is more important than loving theology. The warning I find in John 5 is that when they’re reversed – when I love theology or doctrines or whatever more than God and His people – I run the major risk of forsaking God altogether. If/When I reach that point I hope Jesus will slap me in the face.