I’ve recently been thinking about the relationship between my studies as an academic and my relationship with God. How do I love God and pursue academics at the same time?
The academy is stone cold. Books of unknown age line the walls filled with tedious sophistry. The bearded scholar sits in his 1800s garb engrossed in books and cares nothing for the world around. The glass in his spectacles must often be replaced because his perpetual staring wares them thin. Or so academics is perceived by those outside the window, and truly much of academics do take this persona.
But must we take on this persona? Does theology necessitate a Christian who has little passion for God? I’ve heard many comments which say, “Yes, teaching and theology is necessarily dry.” Even if the role of doctrine is appreciated, it is almost treated as if it is an oversized pill that we must choke down to stay health spiritually.
But this is hardly the role that theology is meant to fill. In fact, the opposite is true. The greatest theologians of the church all had a passionate heart for God. Read any church father and you might be surprised.
Augustine was the most influential philosopher of the church. No other person has been more quoted or referenced in all of church history. In his well-known book Confessions he said:
O Lord my God, hear my prayer and let thy mercy attend my longing. It does not burn for itself alone but longs as well to serve the cause of fraternal love. Thou seest in my heart that this is so. Let me offer the service of my mind and my tongue—and give me what I may in turn offer back to thee.
This passionate prayer prefaced his discussion of God and his relation to time. He philosophized for an entire book on this subject because he was passionate about loving God. Here is part of what he said:
All thy years stand together as one, since they are abiding. Nor do thy years past exclude the years to come because thy years do not pass away. All these years of ours shall be with thee, when all of them shall have ceased to be. Thy years are but a day, and thy day is not recurrent, but always today. Thy “today” yields not to tomorrow and does not follow yesterday. Thy “today” is eternity. Therefore, thou didst generate the Coeternal, to whom thou didst say, “This day I have begotten.” Thou madest all time and before all times thou art, and there was never a time when there was no time.
And this quote is the lighter end of his philosophical confessions. All that to say, his passion and love drove him to theology/philosophy/academics, not away from it. Examples could be multiplied here: Eusebius, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and John Calvin to name a few. All these men found their passion fulfilled in knowing God more and more. And look how these men have shaped the church. They brought reform, defended the existence of God, and wrote about the cloud of witnesses who have gone on before.
Not to mention Paul who was probably the most educated New Testament writer and Moses in the Old. On a human level, these two brilliant men wrote some of the most world-shaking literature which is still passionately studied by believer and nonbeliever alike. But they too had a passion for God. Moses begged to see God’s glory. Paul overwhelmed by God’s grace and wisdom cried out:
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
In the end, my point is this: theological academics are not just a wall to defend against error, but a portal through which we enflame our passion for God.