Wednesday, February 08, 2017

The Glory and Danger of Studying God

The View of Sighet, Romania from my Hotel Room
When properly conceived and practiced, theology leads to doxology and devotion. That is, the study of God is designed by God to evoke awe in our hearts, praise from our lips, and obedience in our lives. If this fruit is absent or anemic, we must carefully consider the roots of our study. Why are we engaging in theology? Are we approaching God as a subject that is to be studied and mastered rather than the Creator who is to be worshiped and adored? Have we put ourselves in the place of God or have we taken our place under the mighty hand of God?
This week, I traveled with a team of four from Training Leaders International (TLI) to Sighet, Romania to commence a three-year course of study. Our task is to teach the first course, “The Attributes of God,” and by the grace of God we have about twenty students who we divided into two groups. Group one is being taught by Ethan Larson (our team leader) along with Bob Klint, and group two is being taught by me along with Greg Ley.

In the first session, I led group two to contemplate the glory and the danger of studying God. The glory is that as we grow in the knowledge of God, the potential for worshiping God, loving God, and obeying God also grows. The study of God does not automatically cause worship, love, and obedience to increase, but it does expand the possibilities. On the other hand, the study of God is fraught with the danger that as we grow in knowledge we will also puff up with pride. Theology devoid of doxology and devotion always leads to legalism, hypocrisy, and idolatry of one sort or another.

And we must not allow ourselves to think this a small danger, for Jesus sternly warned us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23).

With our eyes thus focused on God himself as our prize, we commenced our study and, over the first two days, contemplated the incomprehensibility of God, the unity and tri-unity of God, the independence of God, the unchangeableness of God, the eternality of God, and the omnipresence of God. As day two drew to a close, we prayed together and I dismissed the group.

However, before we could leave, one of the older men got everyone’s attention and insisted that we pause to sing our praise to God. For him, the long-contemplation of God gave rise to an awe that could not be suppressed or put on hold. As a worshiper, he had to sing. As a leader, he had to call us to sing. And so we sang a Romanian hymn entitled, “I Am the Alpha and the Omega.” We rendered heartfelt worship to the God we had studied. We gave glory to the Father whose glory we had seen.

As we drove back to our hotel, it occurred to me that theology should lead to doxology and devotion in this way, that is, as a genuine and spontaneous response of the heart and the will to God. Forced worship is no worship at all. Of course, personal discipline is part of loving God, for we must daily choose to read and meditate on his Word, to pray and sing, to trust and obey. But life with God does not reduce to discipline. Rather, normal life with God gives rise to spontaneous responses of worship and obedience, and when such responses come we know that we have entered into the glory of studying God.