Sunday, March 25, 2012

Theology Is Like a Kayak Trip

God speaks to each of us in slightly different ways, depending on how He wired us. Just as people speak different "love languages," so also people hear God in diverse ways. Myself, I hear Him best through the voice of nature. I also think in metaphors, so God frequently instructs me in life's tougher lessons through what I call "living parables."

I am currently taking a course in basic theology and have been asked to examine how I "do" theology. Here is the metaphor I have chosen to use to illustrate my understanding of the way in which God reveals Himself to me:

Theology is like a kayak trip. (Yes, I know, that is a simile not a metaphor. Work with me, people.)

The water represents my life experiences
. I need to navigate them without hitting any obstacles or capsizing. A purely intellectual knowledge of God is like trying to kayak without water ... pointless and ineffective. In order to begin to understand who God is, I have to get wet!

The paddle represents Scripture. Notice, this is not a canoe paddle or a rowboat oar; it is a double-bladed kayak paddle. Think of one blade as the Old Testament and one blade as the New Testament: both are needed if I want to paddle a straight line. Sometimes, however, wind and current make paddling difficult and I need to paddle more intensely on one side or the other in order to stay on track. In the same way, sometimes I rely more heavily on the Old Testament and sometimes on the New Testament, but I need both of them in order to get a clear picture of who God is and how I can rightly relate to Him. Without a paddle, I will simply sit on top of the water and be blown around by the wind and waves with no ability to control my journey ... the fate of all too many Christians who are "blown about" by whatever teaching comes into fashion.

The PFD (personal flotation device, aka "life jacket") represents two millennia of church tradition. While it is not absolutely essential to my ability to paddle, I wouldn't want to be on the water without it. For one thing, it provides back support that keeps me comfortable and allows me to paddle longer and harder without tiring; it also gives me some insurance in case I mess up, lose my balance, and fall out of the boat. Those who think they can interpret Scripture without regard for the interpretations of previous generations of Christians run the risk of getting in over their heads and drowning in a sea of subjectivity.

Finally, the boat represents the leading of Holy Spirit. Without Him, I have only two choices: stand on the shore and look out over the waters without ever traveling them, or try to float along with no more than a PFD and a paddle, hoping that there are no sharks (or gators) in the water. It is in partnership with and reliance upon God's Holy Spirit that I can move through life safely and with joy.

For kayaking is a joyous experience! God is manifest in His creation, and kayaking allows me to interact with aspects of that creation that I'd never see otherwise ... just as theology, rightly understood and embraced, allows me to explore deeper aspects of God.

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