I signed up for a daily faith reflection by Richard Rohr some time ago. It’s one of the best things I read each morning.
A recent email reflection included this statement:
“Good theology makes for good politics and positive social relationships. Bad theology makes for stingy politics, a largely reward/punishment frame, xenophobia, and highly controlled relationships.”
So true – every word of it.
The next obvious question though is how does one know good and bad theology? Excellent question.
Some of it is in the eye of the beholder. That has its limits though. We’re not talking about disagreeing over some doctrinal matter in a seminary debate here. We’re talking about people’s lives being impacted in real ways due to a theological foundation. It’s about how we view and envision God. How we understand God has an impact on so much of everything else.
If we believe that God is wrathful and a punisher of anyone who breaks the rules, imagine how that plays out in other areas of one’s life. Imagine how someone who holds these beliefs interacts with others. Do you think this type of person is willing to forgive, or show mercy, or give someone a second chance? I doubt it. Their conception of God will dictate how the interact with the world and with others.
Remember, we are made in the image and likeness of God. While this is true, we are also creatures who will behave in ways that align with what we believe about God.
If you want to know a great deal about a person, ask them about God. What is God to them, and what are the characteristics of God that the person is drawn to. It is likely that they aren’t just talking about God, but also about themselves and how they behave. Many people may believe in the Imago Dei (the image of God), but in practical matters, the actually believe that God is made in their image. The deity just becomes a larger version of themselves, or their ideal self with power.
This raises the question of what power is and how it is related to God. Is power the ability to control others, or is power the ability to control oneself? Is control a God-like characteristic feature at all? Or is control the antithesis of God?
This whole thing also raises other questions – what about atheists and those who reject the very idea of God? From the folks I know who fit this category, here’s what I know – they reject certain images of God. The funny thing is that I reject the same images of God as these atheists. Maybe the only difference because my atheist friends and myself is not about what we reject, but about what it is that we have embraced. While I have an image of God that I can embrace, my atheist friends do not. Maybe that comes from some kind of abuse caused at the hands of the church. Maybe that comes from hypocritical Christians. Maybe it comes from a variety of things.
All of this leads back to the main point – good theology matters. This isn’t about being right and pointing out how others are wrong in their theology. This is about how theology and our beliefs have an impact on people’s lives in practical ways. Are we promoting ways that improve lives, or ways that make life more difficult? Good theology can help make life better. That’s my working definition of good theology.