Will serious theology kill my love for God?
Serious study can be damaging to your joy. I know a young man who did English Literature at University. After three years of study, he vowed never to pick up a book again. Serious study had killed his love for literature. Could the same happen with theology? Is there a danger that if we study God too much, we’ll vow never to return to him again?
Thankfully, no. Last year, I set out to study the doctrine of God to preach at our church. This didn’t kill my joy. Indeed, the more I learned about God, the more I worshipped him.
Let me share with you five doctrines that touched my heart to encourage you to delve deeper into who God is.
God is incomprehensible
Could there be anything more joy-killing than the idea that God is incomprehensible? What’s the point of studying a God who you can’t understand?
But incomprehensibility doesn’t mean that. It means we can know God truly, but not exhaustively. If God’s greatness were a well, it would be a well without a bottom. Every day studying the incomprehensible God, you find new depths. You will just never reach the point where your knowledge is complete.
For example, Paul prays that God’s people would “know this love that surpasses knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). You can know God’s love truly but not exhaustively. At eighty you still have as much of God’s love to discover as you did when you were first converted. Indeed, 8 million years into eternity, you will still have new depths to dwell. Knowing God is worth pursuing because you will find new joys and never hit the bottom.
There is no greater danger than the church leader who “knows it all.” This has been far too apparent in many leadership scandals. Our churches need leaders who recognise there is always more to explore. Every time leaders come to read God’s word or study his character, there are fresh treasures to see. Church leaders: dive deep into the incomprehensible God.
God reveals by analogy
One of my favourite descriptions of theology is Calvin’s. He says that God “lisps to us”. Or you could say the Bible is God’s “baby talk.” When you speak to a small child, you modify your language so they can understand. God does that to us.
This brings humility. A Master of Divinity is simply a master of God’s baby talk! But also, what a comfort that God speaks in ways we can understand. This is what’s called analogy. No human words can fully express God’s nature.
This can help us better understand the Bible’s language. No one thinks “The Lord’s my shepherd” means that God is a tweed-clad farmer. But perhaps when we hear of God’s wrath we forget this. Are we picturing an abusive father, flying off the handle? If we recognise that wrath is an analogy though, we recognise God’s wrath will be different to human wrath. His anger is a perfect hatred of sin, never a disproportionate response. Understanding analogy is a doorway to understanding his character rightly.
The Puritans would often use take descriptions of God as a subject for extended meditation. Why not consider doing this? Take a familiar description of God: shepherd, Father, husband. Run your mind through what the scripture teaches. For example you might think of God as Father. You’d consider his relationship to Jesus, the prodigal son’s Father, how Jesus said he will not give his children stones to eat. Then you apply it to your situation. For example, if God pictures himself as the welcoming father of the Prodigal Son, why would you fear coming to him in repentance? Deep thought on divine analogy helps the truths about God sink into finite human minds.
God is impassible
Impassibility is a much maligned doctrine. How can it be a good thing that God doesn’t have emotions?
Yet impassibility teaches primarily that God cannot be acted on by another. You and I are sometimes passive and sometimes active. There’s a big difference for example between I eat the chicken (active) and I am eaten by the chicken (passive). Our emotions are often a mix of active and passive. To some extent I actively choose to be happy, grateful, angry. But often I am acted on by outside factors. My emotions are impacted by my hormones, my level of tiredness or what another person has done to me.
But God is impassive. His response isn’t affected by outside factors This is great news!
Take his love. If God’s love was passive, it would be affected by our love for him. But God’s love doesn’t ebb and flow. It isn’t 96% one day and 42% the next. It’s always 100%. That impassable love is wonderful news for the Christian. Though you are prone to wander in your affections, God’s love towards you is unchanging.
No Christian reaches a place in this life where their love for God is stable. Perhaps as you read you feel spiritually cold. How wonderful it is to know God is impassible. When you are spiritually dry, he loves you with the same intensity as when you were first saved. As in the words of a great hymn:
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not
As thou hast been thou forever wilt be.
God is eternal
Peter says “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). What does that mean? It means he is as aware of a thousand years ago as he is of today. It also means he won’t run out of time today, he could do 1000 years’ worth of actions and more.
As I dwelt on this, I thought of the concept of “big prayers”. We’re often encouraged to prayer big prayers because we have a big God. That’s glorious! But we can also bring little prayers too. It’s not like God will run out of time.
Some of us will remember going to our parents with a request and being told “I’m too busy right now to help you”. That’s never the case with God. God has time for the missionary in prison and the mum whose baby cannot sleep. For the world-renowned evangelist and the six year old who prays for the first time. He’ll always have time for you.
Church leaders often feel there is no one in the world who has time for them. Perhaps your fellow elders are already overburdened with church matters. Your wife is inundated with work responsibilities. Friends elsewhere are in greater trials than you. Who can you turn to when no one has time? The eternal God. He is always ready to hear the cries of his children. He has all the time in the world.
God’s inseparable operations
Inseparable operations is the idea that when one member of the Trinity does something all the others are involved. A classic example of this is Jesus’ baptism. Jesus is baptised, the Spirit descends as a dove, and the Father voices his approval.
Some Christians imagine a begrudging Father whose arm is twisted by his Son into salvation. And the Spirit? They’ve no idea what he did at Calvary. Yet if inseparable operations are true, all three persons united to save. Father, Spirit and Son determined to save humanity with equal enthusiasm.
Many have noted the poverty of modern Christians’ trinitarian reflections. Does it begin here? Do even our leaders carry a secret presumption that even if Christ is for me, surely Spirit or Father or not? What would it change in your heart to seriously reflect on the Triune God’s united mission of love to you?
Do you see what great love the Father has lavished on you, that we should be called children of God (1 John 3:1)? Do you see God the Son loved you and give himself for you (Galatians 2:20). Do you see God’s love has been poured out into your heart through the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5)? What difference would it make for you to know that eternally the triune God has set his love upon you and determined to adopt you? Could you not spend eternity loving such a God?
I could go on. Were we to delve into all the goodness of God, we could fill the universe with books and still have barely scratched the surface. But do you see that a deeper understanding of God’s character doesn’t kill our love for him but grow it?
Church leaders: go deep into who God is. Don’t fear the hard topics of theology but approach it as a worshipful son or daughter of the Father. If your eyes are open, what you see will only make your heart burst with the glory of who God is.