Yes, theology does matter. As luck would have it, it matters a great deal.
Site-note: please ignore the grammatically incorrect meme of Rhett Butler. I can only depend on the internet for so much.
The false opposition
The popular idea that the pursuit of theology must cancel out the pursuit of God’s presence is, in a word, false. The same notion in reverse is also false.
I say the idea is popular because I hear it come up often enough in any conversation that skims the shallows of biblical criticism and layman’s hermeneutics. And while I consider myself a layman among laymen, I do not consider myself a moron among morons. (Those of you who get to spend time with me regularly should take this as a compliment.)
About a week before the 2020 election, while driving home from Orlando, I saw a sign that read, “In Trump We Trust.” And all I could think was, “that’ll have to be answered for, and probably sooner than we expect.”
God will not be mocked.
Now, seeing America’s Charismatic and Evangelical Christians teetering on the cusp of an existential crisis fills me with hope. Perhaps I need to see a pastor and, you know, get that looked at…
What follows is my personal, frail attempt to make sense of a devastating event.
(because prologues are cool)
While dining at my sister’s house, I sat beside my nephew, Leader, who was seven or eight years old at the time. He is eleven now. Guided by a profound impulse, he decided to ask me a series of theological questions, which he has been known to do at odd times (for example, he once told me I had to “fight the dragon” so that I could become “a king of forgiveness”).
“Unky Adam,” he said.
“Yes?” I said, turning toward him.
“Do you love God more than money?” he asked, his smile as big as a crescent moon.
“Yes,” I said. I went back to my food, thinking that would be the end of it.
“Do you love God more than houses?” he asked, his tenor elevated. He seemed to know well enough that sequels should raise the stakes.
“Yes,” I said.
His smile broadened. I decided not to take the next bite, knowing that another question must follow in the series. To him, it was a kind of game where the questions must be part of a trilogy.
“Do you love God more than the world?” he asked, raising his volume to something like half a notch above inside-voice acceptable decibels.
I waited, wanting to give myself a moment to be honest even if it led to disappointment. Anyone claiming to be a believer would want the answer to be “Yes”. But I gave myself enough time for it to be a cold, cowardly “No” if the truth of my heart demanded it. I gave myself time to fall if fall I must.
“Yes,” I said.
As soon as I spoke, I knew I had done what for me had always been unthinkable. I had made a commitment. Leader smiled bigger, but not because he had trapped me. He smiled in a kind of child-like awe. You see, because I had affirmed my love for God above money, houses, and the world—because of these affirmations of faith, he seemed to think I was some sort of hero.
The Man is afraid, abiding the moment as one in a trance or stranded in a dream idling on the edge of wakefulness. The blaze is hot but not stifling. It is a perfect heat, if such a thing can be perfect. Purple and pink tendrils of lighting reach over the mountaintop as if drawn by the flames. The fire drinks the rain. It is a fire unquenchable just as the force fueling it is unstoppable.
The ground is sacred – take off your shoes and feel the earth. Be in this moment. Hear me. Believe me. Trust me. Do everything I say and never again know the fear of man.
While it is not a perfect movie, The Dark Knight Rises is for me the most positive example of the intersection of my faith with art. Certainly, the movie is not without its holes, such as the lack of explanation for how Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) gets back into Gotham after his exile. While these issues deserve attention, I keep going back to the movie for its thematic message, which reflects my favorite scripture from Isaiah: “Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow” (1:17, NIV). This scripture, especially the part about the fatherless, is the basis of Bruce Wayne’s journey throughout the film.