Friday, 20 August 2010

On theology and friendship

Thomas Mann once said that a writer is simply someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.

I wonder if this insight could also be extended into theology. Theologians are people for whom the Christian faith is especially difficult, incomprehensible, infuriating. As a rule they are not especially talented or spiritually adept individuals. They are people whose minds have been hurt by God, and they are restlessly searching for – what? Healing perhaps, or catharsis? To expect so much from the study of theology would be futile or even dangerous. At any rate there is no lack of opportunities for theological catharsis: often our worship services seem calculated to remove the difficulty of believing, to make God easy and accessible, more a cure than a wasting sickness.

Perhaps then we should define theologians like this: They are people for whom even the Christian worship service does not provide adequate catharsis of the hurtfulness of God.

That is why, as a general rule, you should try to show kindness to theologians. Not because they are necessarily exemplary personalities. Not because they necessarily know what they're talking about. Not because they are necessarily people of great faith. Instead, you should show them kindness because their faith is so weak and so vulnerable; because they are burdened by the difficulty of God; because they are driven to think about God the way some people are driven to drink. You should take care of your theologians the way you would care for the widow and the orphan.

Jürgen Moltmann has somewhere remarked: "We are not theologians because we are particularly religious; we are theologians because in the face of this world we miss God."

This does not mean theology takes place under conditions of God's absence. We "miss God" in the world only because God is revealed in the world, only because God is so devastatingly near. It is in the company of an intimate friend that one experiences the true depths of loneliness. Theology springs from the joy and the loneliness of God's nearness.

Thus one of the proper goals of theology is not so much spiritual catharsis or intellectual mastery – clearing up every difficulty so that one can sleep at night – as the cultivation of theological friendships. Friendship sustains the difficulty of thinking about God. I warm myself by the fire of a friend's loneliness. God is near, and so we are lonely for God. Friendship is the small room in which we share together the loneliness and the joy of God's nearness.

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