Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Theology Seven - Soul Food for the Hungry Heart

This is a continuing series about why and how real theology is necessary for the woman of God. For previous articles please click here.

When Jesus visited Martha’s home in Bethany, both she and her sister, Mary, learned a penetrating and enduring lesson from Jesus about the importance of theology for women (Luke 10:38-42). At that time Rabbis considered it unthinkable to allow women to learn the Scriptures. “Rather burn the sayings of the law than teach them to a woman” was a common adage. But in their home in Bethany, Jesus interrupts time, busyness and decorum, and in His infinite essence heralds a message to Mary and Martha (and the men) that only one thing is of eternal importance – knowing Him. “Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (vs. 42).

Paul tells Timothy to, “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission” (I Tim. 2:11). So we have it from Christ and the apostle Paul that women should be students of Christ who come to Him to learn. Martha could not handle a simple situation because she had not been at Jesus’ feet. How then can women have peace in difficult circumstances without the anchor of a full knowledge of their God? And knowing Him only casually is really not knowing Him at all.

The woman determined to know God intimately strives to sit at His feet when everything else shouts “Get up, get busy!” When God’s goodness is obscured from our sight in the storms of life, a casual knowledge of Him will only hasten a faltering faith into the depths of doubt and despair. In order to weather the deluge, a real working knowledge of God is imperative if we would have a compass to guide us in the chaos.

We will be assured, like Job, that no matter what life’s challenges, God is good – He is perfectly and eternally good. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; though its waters roar and be troubled” (Psalm 46:1-3).

Recently I heard a story about some Christian women from Bangladesh, a culture in which women are considered chattel. In Bangladesh, women's lives are agonizingly hard. Most have no love demonstrated toward them, whether they are young or old. Husbands in this culture have many women (just as you and I have as many pairs of shoes as we please) and they treat their women like property.

A group of these women heard the gospel and some came to know Christ, but since they did not fully grasp how much God loved them, they continued to live dejected, heartless lives. There seemed to be no change until a missionary began to teach them about the attributes of God – theology proper. When they understood the magnanimity of His love for them and His goodness toward them, they asked, “Are you saying that God loves us in this way? He wants only our good? Why didn't someone tell us of this sooner?”

From that day on they were able to smile, though their circumstances were not changed. They had the peace of God and knew that He truly cared for them. A new personal dignity sustained them. Not even the harshest, most brutal treatment could shake their confidence in God’s love for them. They were changed because they dug deep into God’s glorious character and discovered strength there for themselves.

While in Uganda recently, I taught a group of Christian women from Entebbe. These women were mostly illiterate and therefore unlearned in the Scriptures. I observed that a course of child-rearing “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” was badly needed. When raising children in this harsh environment, parents tend to be severe and unloving, with the idea that this will help their kids cope with the difficulties they will face as adults. I saw children with real needs left to cry and “get over it”. Obviously, the women needed light from the Scriptures.

As they learned about their relationship to God, how He sees them in His Son, their adoption by the Spirit, their Heavenly Father's parental love for them, how He disciplines the ones He loves, about His goodness toward His children, and more, the women were overwhelmed with gratitude to God. They repented of their harsh practices and simply wanted to love their children, to be kindly disposed to them as God was toward them. I saw before me a “new creation” in Christ. The old cultural standards passed away in the warmth of this fresh knowledge of God, and all relationships became new. Their difficult lives and their children’s also became sweet that day because of what they knew, because theology became a part of their being.

While we were there in Uganda, I became acquainted with Eddie, the wife of Venencio, the college chaplain in Zana, Uganda (currently, Venencio is pastoring a church in Bundibudgeo, which is on the border of the Congo in northern Uganda). I was overjoyed when she responded to the theology that she learned when we visited there. The mother of toddler twins who suffer terribly from sickle cell anemia, she was despondent and had even emotionally detached herself from her babies since there was so little she could do to help them in their pain. She distanced herself, realizing she might not always have them. She was truly caught in the storm’s tempest. But when she heard that God was “the Lord above the storm”, about His sovereignty over the storm, she began to look up to Him and found great strength and comfort. Her countenance revealed the peace she had as a result of her knowing God better.

Personally, I can affirm that theology – knowing God – has been an anchor for me in the trials I have faced. When one of our daughters ran away from home at the age of sixteen, one day before her birthday, my world came crashing down. I turned to God, although I could not understand why He would allow such anguish. He strengthened me and even gave me joy in spite of the heartache.

But I knew that my knowledge of God was shaky at best. He was using the trial to deliver me from the false teaching I had succumbed to over the previous five years. Living legalistically, I had expected that because I was doing my part in raising our children, God was obligated to save them. Now I told myself, “Either God is a liar or my beliefs are completely false.” I knew God well enough to recognize that the problem was not with Him; He can not lie for He is not only the source of all truth, He is truth. I thank Him for those early lessons of theology proper that taught me that fact clearly.

God then put a desire within me to discover more truth concerning Him so that I could battle the lies I had believed and the bitterness that would follow if I became complacent about pursuing Him. Along with the Psalmist I confessed, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes." (Psalm 119:71) So with abundant resources before me (shelves filled with my husband's theological books and every English Bible translation known to man), I began a quest for God that resolved all my issues. That initial seeking has become an unending pursuit for me. Even today, seeking God in this way creates in me more of a hunger for God. The more I know about Him, the more I realize there is so much more to know about Him, for He is inscrutable.

Now I know the truth of Psalm 119:67-68, "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word. You are good and do good; teach me Your statutes." Notice that the Psalmist does not rest on his laurels, the fact that he keeps God's word (..."but now I keep Your word..." in verse 67). No, he knows his heart all too well. He knows that he must continue to pursue knowing God in His word. He prays "...teach me Your word." (68).

This is exactly what I need. If I ease off of this pursuit, I know where my heart will take me and I do not want to go there. The practicality of daily theology, consistently getting to know God more intimately, is the "one thing " I need. And it is the only pursuit that yields eternal, lasting returns.

Oh, may we, like Mary, strive to sit and learn at Christ's feet. When the world pulls and demands our attention, may we hear His admonishment as did Martha, "Sharon, Sharon, you are worried and bothered about so many things but only one thing is needed. Choose that which will not be taken away from you. Choose to know Me."
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