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  • Joshua Ziefle

Words About God

Theology. For some, it is a term that stokes great passion--positive or negative. The dogmas of the past inspire both love or loathing amongst those considering them today. Learned volumes and academic institutions exist to serve its devotees. There are other scholarly or popular forums for those on the attack. Despite this fervor, though, I suspect theology is a concept given little thought by most people. The assumption, frankly, is that it has little to do with our lives and is largely irrelevant for our workaday lives.


I understand this latter impulse. The way that theology is sometimes taught and discussed can involve strict and rigid lines, obscure terminologies, and debates about questions we never asked and mysteries no one asked to solve. In the popular mind, studying theology is something akin to attending Hogwarts but without any magic.


As most of you likely know, I am a "professional religious person." I am an ordained minister who has not only spent time studying theology in college and seminary, but now oversee students who are studying ministry, Scripture, and theology at the undergraduate and graduate level. So, unsurprisingly, I would like to offer a word or two in defense of theology. Not, I hope, because I need to justify the path of my own life. But rather because I believe the journey has been worth it. Because theology is something worthy for all of us to consider.


When I have the opportunity to speak or teach, I sometimes offer my own definition of theology. To do this I simply take the word apart, splitting it into Greek roots of sorts. First we have logos: word/study. Second, we have theos: God. Put these together and you get my definition: "words about God." While the experts may raise some significant questions about my linguistic shorthand, this cute little phrase is good enough for my purposes.


I like describing theology as "words about God" because it breaks the idea free from the academic cage in which it so often finds itself. If theology is only the purview of the scholars or the professionals, it can have little to do with our lives. But if it is, to begin with, just words and ideas about God? Then theology is for everyone.


When I say theology is for everyone, I mean it. Because we all can have words about God. Religious experts and laypersons alike. People across religious traditions. People of no religion at all. Our words are not all the same, certainly. But they are there, whether vocally expressed, written, or simply rolling around in our hearts and minds.


At a very basic level, reflecting about God means reflecting about existence: why we are here, what we are doing, and where we are going. And while the Christian, Muslim, or Jewish person may have very concrete traditional answers to these questions, those with no religious faith at all can reflect on these things too. Even if one's word's about God are simply in negation, they are theology too. To say there is no God is to speak clear words about God. To consider God to be a figment of one's imagination is a word about God too. To argue that belief in God is dangerous represents more words still. Such statements are theology no less than a dozen academic lectures on the Trinity.


No theology is unwelcome here, my friends. So let's keep the words coming.ant to do so. All of us live our lives bounded by mortality. Each of us have questions. And we dare not simply leave the answers to "the experts." Human beings should openly and freely have these conversations. Now I realize: such questions and conversations can be very personal. There are deeply held beliefs represented in our "words about God." Our emotions can be so closely tied to these ideas that it is hard to hear, even countenance, a different viewpoint or set of questions. But listen, talk, and share we must--and with an heart that understands us all as fellow travelers on this side of eternity. Because such questions are a part of what it means to be human. And, ultimately, because I believe that God's Truth is out there. Our shared words, mutual learnings, and honest realizations do not have to return void.


No theology is unwelcome here, my friend. So let's keep the words coming.

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