Ground zero of all good theology is humility.
It is the recognition that I am blind.
Which simply means that we recognize our common ground with Paul – who saw more in the three days during which he was completely blind than he did in as many seeing decades sitting under the best theologians of his generation.
Richard Steele draws the parallel between our situation and that of the blind man healed by Jesus in Mark 8 – healed not all at once, but in stages. He sees nothing until that first saliva-smearing touch of Jesus on his eyes. Then his vision was distorted (perhaps a no-brainer considering it was a saliva-smearing touch!) as he now saw “men walking as trees” (aka “ents”).
The situation of the theologian is like that of the blind man during that strange moment between the first touch of Jesus and the second: more able to see than before, but only well enough to know that his sight is still blurry and out of focus. And like it or not, the theologian soon learns that he is permanently in that condition, at least on this side of heaven. The one thing he learns to see with absolute clarity is how badly he and everyone else needs the divine ophthalmology.
Good theologians remember they ever labor in the space between the two touches.
And when you realize your vision is distorted, if you are wise, there will be a certain tentativeness in your steps, particularly the farther ahead you attempt to look, the more sweeping the gaze. We can only be certain of the step immediately before us – unless we have attempted to memorize the path like Blythe “The Forger” in The Great Escape who tried to dupe his comrades into believing that he could see by memorizing his moves.
Bad theologians try to memorize their moves as they try to convince others (and themselves!) that they can see better than they really do.
Good theologians don’t memorize moves, nor do they try to kid anyone that they can ever do more than “see through a glass darkly.”
Nothing is more absurd than a theologian who pretends to be an “expert” or “authority” on God – as if God weren’t high and lifted up above all human knowing, as if God weren’t elusive, mysterious, transcendent, and incomprehensible. (Steele, again).
Or, as Augustine of Hippo observed, “Si comprehenderis non est Deus.”
If you can understand it, it’s not God.
Such a perspective continually reawakens a humble yieldedness in our arguments and conclusions in which we hold more with an open hand than closed – in fact, when walking with distorted vision between the two touches, wisdom would dictate primarily an open-handed approach as we move forward over uncertain terrain, ready to grapple with whatever reality we encounter along the way.
And moving with such yielding gait, it will not be a bold, assuming “I have this under control” YAWP that will be heard coming from our throats (theologians? control issues? naaaaaaah), but one that resembles more a continual appeal for assistance.
And, of course, before she does much audible “yawping” at all, she’ll be standing still in silence, listening first, always…