Pooh-poohing Theology – an Apology

This s a follow up to yesterday’s blog. I want to address the flippant paragraph I wrote about the concept of redemption as I was taught growing up in the Catholic Christian faith. Here is the paragraph:

“I can’t really get my brain around whatever my Christian theology was trying to tell me about what redemption means. Something to do with Jesus, I was told. It happened when he died on the cross. Or was it when he rose from the dead?  Or was it when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles? Whatever! That doesn’t have I much meaning for me. I heard it in religion class and in the words of the priest from the pulpit or in the many theology books I read in college. It is all a bunch of gobbledygook to me.”

I feel I was being a little unfair to those who really do understand the meaning of redemption in the light of what Jesus did for us. I don’t mean to undermine, disrespect or pooh-pooh anything anyone believes, especially if it is near and dear to their hearts. But I have to be honest about my own journey. I have always been drawn to the worlds of theology and philosophy. I liked deep discussions about the nature of God and the ways He works in the world. I realize now that I was searching for meaning in life, for a way to explain the workings of things. I was never alone in my search. There are countless individuals who have struggled with suffering in the world and tried to find answers and hope. The church was more than willing to fill this need and I went for it. I latched on to the bible and bible studies; I threw myself into all kinds of religious expressions within Christianity and in other faiths. I majored in theology in college taking courses such as “the Theology of Faith”, the Theology of the Sacraments”, the Theology of Hope”, the “Theology of Love”…the theology of everything under the sun. Everywhere I looked there were explanations and definitions. That is really what theology is, after all: The study of God.

The problem is that all this study didn’t really solve anything. It didn’t seem to make pain and suffering go away. Not in my own life, not in the lives of those who adhered to Christian theology. Having some kind of grasp about God achieved nothing, it seemed. I was sick of listening to the theology passed around, Jesus-is-the-answer theology: “Bring your burdens to Him”. “He will set you free”. “Jesus took all your sins away when he died on the cross”. I’d tried all that, praying until I was blue in the face. I was finding it increasingly difficult to defend the church’s theology in my work.  I stopped reading the bible and I even abandoned my career in the church.

So my paragraph about the theology of redemption through Jesus is really about me and my own inability to find meaning in it. What I needed was a Scrooge experience. I needed to see how life itself can change people’s lives, turn them around from doing harm in the world to doing good. Well, it happened. I had my own redemption experience and it wasn’t a pie-in-the-sky, heady experience but an experience of a life getting messy as hell and then facing the truth about myself and my crappy attitude and self-centeredness. It was an experience of letting go, even of trying to understand God.

My redemption was like Scrooge’s in that I took a step beyond any confrontations. I started to change with the help of others (which by the way was the only way for me). In my old way of thinking, sin was removed when I accepted Jesus into my life. Now I realize that  sin is overcome through trial and error and waking up to see life as it is…and my role in the great stage. I can’t get my head around the idea of Jesus taking anything away. I only know change has happened and it is still happening. If one’s theology about God and Jesus is life changing for them, then I have to respect that.  But if life changing doesn’t penetrate their everyday lives, if it doesn’t lead to the healing of relationships, if it doesn’t lead to humility and joy and love…it doesn’t seem to be a very meaningful change and I can’t buy the theology that supports it.

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