December 5, 2020

A time for theology


I am not a professional theologian. Never have been, never will be. I am a Christian who practices my faith in the Lutheran tradition. I am a minister of the gospel and, by specific vocation, a chaplain who serves the dying and their families. I have also served as a parish minister, a setting in which I still preach and lead worship occasionally. And I write here and elsewhere so as to chronicle my own faith journey and to provoke discussion among those interested to read my muddled musings.

Theology is therefore important to me. Not as a professional or academic interest, but as a human being trying to follow Jesus Christ and love my neighbors.

For at its heart this is what theology is: how we think, talk, and act with regard to God and the meaning of life in this age and the age to come. Facing life “in Christ” and with one another.

Theology means nothing if it doesn’t take into account both what we know of God and what we deal with in the experience of living. It is not just a “divine” science but an utterly human endeavor. Theology must earnestly try to see not only God’s face but also the face of one’s neighbor.

Today I looked into my neighbor’s face, a friend I have known for about fifteen years. Last night he received a call that one of his grown children, a young person known to all of us from community, church, and school, had been murdered.

I went to his home, we embraced and cried, and said very little. Pastor Dan, who writes for us here, had been with him most of the day, accompanying him through the sad obligatory movements of the bereaved. This will be a funereal weekend. We’re all trying to figure out how to care for the family.

This is exactly the time for theology, but only the right kind — the kind of theology that involves human beings quietly trying to follow Jesus and love their neighbors.

Nothing more, and nothing less.


  1. Mike,

    This reminds me of an article James Lileks wrote concerning the death of his father-in-law. In part, he penned the following……..”The closer you are, the less you have to say – silence and presence suffices.” He concluded his article with these words, “Words, in the end, don’t matter. Words are happy to leave the stage, unequal to the role. The best we have are Hope and Sorrow, the common round vowel like a peephole into rooms whose dimensions you can’t possibly measure.”

    Sometimes theology is best represented with silence and presence.

  2. Theology has, over the years, helped me think about death; particularly the sudden, unexpected and tragic kind of death.
    It’s a funny thing about the “providence of God.” On the one hand, as a believer I might be the only survivor of a plane crash. On the other hand, as a believer, I might be the only fatality of a plane crash. I simply trust that God knows what He is doing or allows to be done.

    • –> “I simply trust that God knows what He is doing or allows to be done.”

      As long as someone doesn’t trot out the Christian cliche’ “God has a plan” during someone’s grief and angst, fine. (In other words, it’s usually best that people keep their theology to themselves.)

  3. All I can say is yes to this you have wrote.

    A poem for your friend………….it is my drum. I have been wrong more times than can be counted. I ask for forgiveness.

    You hear me

    Willful pride causes my choke
    The one to surely dash all hope
    I wonder of the day I awoke
    A knife so sharp to cut the rope

    Choosing life and knowing well
    Yet silent lips that never tell
    Wrapped inside a constant hell
    Recess awaiting the sounding bell

    Yet for grace wrapped up in Christ
    This gift so great to enter life
    The Blood and Flesh made for right
    Lighting up the darkest night

    I study you with eyes intent
    Your life inside by what is meant
    True gifts of life now Heaven sent
    These ropes that pull to enlarge the tent

    Now is pride inside humility
    In testing waters faithfully
    For what You are I might be
    In open eyes just what I see

    So these tears that puddle eyes
    In softly sobbing loving cries
    For the help I have in all the tries
    It is here that love becomes the prize

    I hope I don’t have to dash this comp apart. Please Lord forgive me.

  4. Beautiful, CM.

  5. My heartfelt sympathy to your neighbour’s family, friends and neighbours in this tragic time! As they go through this valley of grief and sorrow, may God’s love through your ministry be a true source of comfort to them.

  6. “Theology must earnestly try to see not only God’s face but also the face of one’s neighbor.”

    ‘There is a debate in the Talmud about when the dawn begins.
    “How do we know,” the rabbi asks, “when the night is over and the day has arrived?”
    One student replies: Rebbe, night is over and day arrives, when you can see a house in the distance and determine if that’s your house or the house of your neighbor.

    Another student responds: Night is over and day arrives when you can see an animal in the field and determine if it belongs to you or to your neighbor.

    Yet a third says: Night is over and day has arrived when you can see a flower in the garden and distinguish its color.

    “No, no, no” thunders the Rebbe, “Why must you see only in separations, only in distinctions, and disjunctions. No. Night is over and day arrives when you can look into the face of the person beside you and you can see that he is your brother, she is your sister. Night is over when you can see that you belong to each other. That you are one. Night has ended and day has arrived when you can see God in the face of the other.”’

  7. Chaplain Mike, just saw this. May you have the “right kind of theology” in abundance as you love your neighbor and follow Jesus.