Limitations of Theology

Within study, 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.

There are limitations that are not self-inflicted. One would be the very fact that we perceive through a dark glass. While Paul had many more insights than this author, and has experienced much more than many of the the saints throughout church history, he still was able to confess that he saw through a glass darkly. Our comprehension cannot be full, because revelation itself has not fully been unveiled. We’re at a bizarre time in history, where Messiah has come, and therefore we expect to be able to perceive all things. Yet, Messiah has yet to come again, for in the same way that He went He shall return. We aren’t at the end of the age. This isn’t the new heaven and new earth, no matter what preterists would proclaim.

It isn’t until that final unveiling has come – the great apocalypse – when Jesus rules from Zion on the throne of David, and vision and prophecy cease, knowledge passes away, that we finally know as we are known. For right now we know in part, and in that partial knowledge we prophesy in part. Until the completion comes, with all the fullness of everything, we stand limited in our capacity to comprehend.

Where Scripture is silent, we don’t have witness to speak authoritatively. Scripture simply does not give theological arguments for the existence of God. The Scripture presupposes that. So when you come to theology proper, and begin to read or listen to another man’s work, and the first thing they do is give evidence for God’s existence, they are speaking something beyond what the Bible proclaims. It isn’t that this is bad, or wrong, but we should understand that our theology is limited in this area. And I would suggest that the reason Scripture is silent in many of these sorts of things, even much of science being absolutely ignored within Scripture, is because what God is more concerned with is the witness of the Light. John bore that witness, and so does the Scripture, declaring that the Word of God was with God, and was God, and came before the witnesses of that Word and Light, the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world.

Our chief authority is the Scripture. Yet, that Scripture is declaring a tangible thing – even a Person. The question for me is not whether we can fully know and understand that Person, but rather whether we are truly “persons”, and therefore able to commune with He that is community. Textbooks and theological writings should not be a masterful piecing together of Scripture, as if ingenious expositive interplay replaces apostolic and prophetic perception. The prophets and apostles actually saw something. Even Isaiah 2 begins with the “word” of the Lord that Isaiah “saw”. Jeremiah begins with “What do you see?”, and not with “Go tell the people…” God doesn’t care about our cleverness. He isn’t interested in our intellectual ability to put the pieces together, as if we’re just trying to figure out which pieces of the puzzle fit where. Our intelligence only matters after we’ve seen, beheld the face of God, heard the voice of Him who loves and calls us, and has sent us with that message and perception.

Every time that God interacts with a human being it is an unveiling and revealing of Himself. It is to honor the God who calls that we should be about. Our limitation within theology is not one of a lack of material, nor a lack of comprehensibility. The only limitation, outside of self-inflicted limitation, is the fact that God has not yet been manifest upon the earth in that final enactment that is the conclusion of the age. An egregious error has been committed by the theologians who brush off their insufficient work by simply saying, “We’re only human, and the Scripture is silent in many areas!” Silence is silence, but what happened to the living God? Why tell your people that the Scripture is the prime authoritative source for theology, and then combat the Scripture as if it is inadequate? Either we’re honest enough to say that where the Scripture is silent we ought not to venture, because we are theologians and not scientists or philosophers, or we need to be honest enough to admit that theology is not our task, but rather knowledge and philosophy rapture our hearts.

Finally, we must admit that language itself is insufficient. 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 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? Paul even remarks about the man who saw the third heaven, saying that he saw things that cannot, and should not, be communicated. Isaiah saw the throne and He who was lifted up, and his reaction was not to express every detail, but to cry out, “Woe is me!”

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. 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.

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