Theological questions can reveal blind spots in my understanding.
A friend and I were recently discussing varying interpretations of select biblical passages, passages used by some groups to dangerous ends. As we considered how those passages were misapplied by some, I found myself challenged by my ignorance of how those passages ought to be applied. I could see how some went wrong by interpreting certain texts in ways that contradicted other texts, but I found myself struggling to understand the texts in question rightly. I think in my desire to distance myself from mistakes, I’d inadvertently avoided paying attention to certain verses.
Fear may play a role in my avoidance. Certain movements get associated (or characterized) by certain passages of Scripture or certain doctrines. If those movements skirt the fringes of heresy (or cross fully into that territory), I want to avoid appearing as one of them. I want to remain within the camp of orthodoxy. But in my fear of mishandling the Bible, I don’t always take time to learn the Bible. I sometimes avoid questions instead of doing the work of seeking out answers.
For example, I haven’t spent a lot of time studying the work of Satan in the world. I’ve spotted errors before in some understandings of his work, recognizing that “the devil made me do it” isn’t a good excuse for sin. Similarly, I don’t agree that demons are behind every illness or obstacle humans face. Some movements seem overly preoccupied with the powers of darkness. Yet I admit that I probably don’t pay as much attention to biblical texts concerning such beings as I should. I accept their existence, but I don’t give them much thought. In some ways, biblical passages concerning the devil are blind spots for me, areas where I could do with some further study.
Another example, closer to home, concerns prayer. I think I understand the error James addresses in James 4 regarding those who ask wrongly, but do I understand what it means to ask rightly? I think I understand the importance of abiding in Christ in John 15, but do I understand how to apply verse 7 where Jesus says, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you”? While I can criticize interpretations that make God into a cosmic butler, I’m not sure I fully grasp what Jesus is saying here.
The danger I’m noticing is one of application. I can recognize error and identify it, showing how it steps outside the boundaries of orthodoxy, but I don’t always balance the recognition of error with the application of truth. I can explain why some interpretations of prayer and faith are incorrect, but that doesn’t mean I pray correctly. I can identify unhealthy habits in a Christian’s life, but that doesn’t mean my walk is healthy. As theological questions identify areas where I’ve avoided close study, they may also identify areas where I’ve failed to pursue growth in godliness. Like the Pharisees who knew the Law but didn’t live it out, so I may know the truth but fail to walk in it.
I need to be humble and teachable here. I don’t want my doctrine to be cold and detached from practice; I want my theology to fuel my steps. I won’t understand everything, and that’s alright. Christ doesn’t call us to have answers to every question we may ask but to abide in him. And as we abide, I think we’ll better see the boundaries between truth and error, and we’ll more faithfully walk after his example.