Limitations of Theology

With this, we understand that there are limitations. No matter how we attempt to know and understand theology, we will always be limited in our understanding. Some things are self-inflicted. I have met many who pray that God would give them wisdom and increase their understanding, and then spend less than a few hours a week in the Bible. How do you expect to learn if you won’t even devote yourself to reading Scripture? That is self-inflicted limitation. Likewise, when we spend incredible amounts of time and energy reading what people have written, and even weighing it against the Scripture, but we don’t pray and commune with God, we still inflict upon self a limitation. Prayer isn’t about petition. It is about humility before God. It is about remaining in His presence, whether you hear something or not, feel something or not.

One of the limitations that is not self-inflicted would be our finiteness. Even if we have an IQ of over 200, we still cannot comprehend the Almighty in all of His majesty. The reality is that we are finite, and He is not. Though we might perceive depths unspeakable, it is only but a drop in the ocean compared to what might potentially be ours. Because of our finiteness mentally, physically, emotionally, and even spiritually, we simply cannot grasp the full weight of glory that God offers through His word. It is because of my lack that I need others. I need community. It is not enough if all of the world were to gather together with one purpose: to know and understand God. Even in that, we would fall significantly short, only because, “Who can know the mind of the Lord?” Yet, we have been given the mind of Christ. Though our finite nature might not comprehend, might not perceive, our inner man through the Holy Spirit does comprehend and perceive. Our role is to find that depth contained within the inner man – when deep cries unto deep.

For they who are outside of God, we have blindness due to sin. For they who are in Christ, our perception is skewed when we allow ourselves to be made captive again. Sin is incredibly harmful in all aspects of the Christian life. It binds us back unto death. It entraps us again in the law. It yokes us with Satan. It blinds us to truth and reality. But, worst of all, it separates us from God. In what manner does it separate? It can only be in that we willfully reject God for our carnal pleasures. We establish idols in the very Temple of the Lord, and we say, “We are safe” – safe to do all of these detestable deeds.[1] Our sin incapacitates us to knowing truth. It suffocates us. It is the very sin that we cleave to that lies as an open door for the enemy to pervert and subjugate truth.

Our theology is also limited in areas that the Scripture is silent. For example, there is an absence of theological arguments for the existence of God. The Scripture presupposes that. Another example would be much of the realm of science. Though there are hints and pieces throughout the Scripture as to how the universe works, such as Isaiah claiming that the Earth is a sphere, it simply does not speak to the differential calculus necessary for Newtonian Mechanics. It says almost nothing in the realm of quantum physics or Relativity. How do we know that water is H2O? Is it through Scripture, or is it through chemistry? Yet, we don’t claim that all knowledge is based in the Scripture. We claim that all knowledge is to be understood through the filter of Scripture.

All reality, if it is indeed reality, should line up with the principles and statements within the Scripture. If it does not, then either science is false or theology is false, but they cannot both be true. It is this bias that causes much debate. How legitimate is it to accept the Bible as true, and therefore base our science off of it? How far is too far when we take the texts of Scripture and apply it to something that it simply doesn’t speak? It doesn’t tell us what the spiritual universe is like. If it weren’t for the passages that speak of angels, demons, visions of heaven, and other such things, we probably would have very little precedent to believe in much outside of the physical plane.[2]

This leads into another qualm. There are some aspects that are simply “incomplete”. By all means, I believe that all subjects addressed in the Scripture are addressed fully enough. There are some debates, and rightly so. The debates are formed from the “incomplete”, meaning “not definite”, knowledge of the Scripture. We simply don’t have all of the specific details written out for us. Much of the specifics need to be wrestled with, in context of our theological system, and in context of the nuances of the Bible. Many times what is hidden in the passages of Scripture are nuances that reveal much light in regard to certain aspects of theology, if we would just probe deeply enough to pick them up.[3]

Finally, we must admit that language itself is insufficient. Much of the Scripture is written in Hebrew poetry. The reason is twofold: Hebrew is poetic, and poetry can explain much in very little statement. This is where we need to pick up the nuances. Whether the author has written in Greek or Hebrew, or Aramaic, the author typically writes Hebraically. The words chosen are calibrated. The tone of the speaking is specific. Everything is chosen with the most careful precision to communicate exactly what the author intends to be said.

In our modern times, we’ve lost this art. Our many words betray us. We’re too light, too glib. Why does Isaiah use the phrasing that he uses? Why not a different wording to say the same thing? While the original languages of the Bible had their flaws, I’m coming to the conclusion that English is more flawed. For example, we use the word love to describe a whole mess of things. When we adore something, we love it. When we enjoy something, we love it. When we feel kinship, we love it. When something moves us in our depths, we love it. We can love anything from food, to music, to style, to people. Within each different type of things that we love, there are more categories of what “kind” of love we’re talking about.

This is one of the difficulties of the English language. It is, of course, not the only difficulty. Yet, we know far too well the limitations put upon us when we try to express a deep feeling of emotion, and we are at a loss for how exactly to word it without being misunderstood. How do I tell my sister in Christ how much I care for her without it sounding like I am attempting to extend myself to her? How do I explain to someone who is not a believer what the love of God is like, considering that there is no other love in heaven or on earth that I can use as an example? This is the limitation of language.

Thus, we see that there are limitations to us when we attempt to “do theology”. Yet, these limitations are only that: limitations. They are not hindrances. They are not unbearable obstacles. There is still the ability to have good theology. We can still come to solid conclusions. God has revealed Himself to us, and in revealing Himself has given us ultimate truth. It is our job, despite the limitations, to uncover and discover that truth. Ultimacy is our goal, together with intimacy. Our limitations are only small in comparison to the God who desires to be known by us.

[1] Jeremiah 7:10, but see the context of verses 3-11

[2] This is not to say that we wouldn’t have precedent to believe in the spiritual, but that we simply wouldn’t have much to base it.

[3] We’ll address the clarity of Scripture later, but for now it should be noted that Jesus almost always blamed the person and not the Scripture when someone didn’t understand. Our debates are signs that we don’t examine Scripture as we ought, but choose to hold onto our own perceptions.

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