Asking the questions that lead to God
The problem with theology is that there is rarely (if ever) a neat, simple, and straightforward answer.
Let me explain. Science is my first love and so it was an obvious move for me to spend four years studying chemistry at university. I relished the chance to understand more about different areas of chemistry (and even a bit of physics and biology for good measure).
Studying chemistry at this level grew my sense of awe and wonder about God and the universe he created. Time and again, if I stood back from the immediate information in front of me, I was struck by just how complicated this world is.
Despite some mysteries at the heart of chemistry, the problem sheets and exams had very definite answers to all the questions. If you didn’t have a good idea of the answer, at least you could start by thinking about principles and make some first steps. This suited my personality and the way my mind works, and I had thought I would spend my life as a research scientist or in a similar line of work.
God had different ideas, however. In the summer of my first year he called me to be a vicar, and I started the discernment process when I went back to university that autumn. Over the next few years I grew more excited about this, and much less excited about carrying on in chemistry. Now I cannot imagine doing anything other than being a vicar, and my studying at Trinity has only confirmed this.
However, I have had to make the huge adjustment from studying a science (with neat answers) to theology (which doesn’t). I can’t study theology the way I studied chemistry—working through a set of logical rules to reach a conclusion. I have had to learn (the hard way) that theology is not a problem-based subject: ‘Because God, who can never be fully comprehended, lies at the heart of all theological enquiry, theology by its nature is not a problem solving enterprise, but rather a mystery discerning enterprise.’1
I have found that I end up leaving doctrine lectures with more questions than answers (thanks, Justin/Jon) and a vague sense that I’ve barely scratched the surface of the topic. Even in biblical studies there are no hard-and-fast answers to the difficult questions about context, translation, and meaning.
I didn’t come to Trinity expecting to get “all the answers” before I am let loose on the Anglican Church (poor them), but I also didn’t expect to be asking many more questions than before. I am now asking questions that I didn’t think even existed a year ago. Almost every aspect of my time at Trinity so far has left me questioning a part of my life and ministry – unlike chemistry, which I could put to one side once I’d done the problem sheet assigned.
Theology is taking over my life in a way that chemistry (and science in general) never did. I am on a lifelong journey to draw closer to God and to learn to love him more through reading and studying. I’ve had to learn that this isn’t about finding the right answers, but about asking the right questions that will drive me on and on, closer to God. Each time I read a new idea, it drives me to discover more, and opens the mystery of God even wider. It’s exhilarating, but also frightening – this is now a commitment for the rest of my life (especially as a future vicar).
You see, the problem with theology is that there is rarely (if ever) a neat, simple, and straightforward answer. And that’s why I have grown to love it.
1 Thomas G. Weinandy (2000). ‘Does God Suffer?’ (Edinburgh:T&T Clark), p32.