Added to the “. . . And Other Stupid Statements” series.
Albert Einstein once said “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing . . . so is a lot.”
I have been in discussions with a gentleman who reads this blog and, occasionally, will take one of my theology courses. The main topic of discussion is the necessity of theological discourse for the average Christian. Whether it be big words, concepts, or ideas, this gentleman does not think such things are necessary for the Christian life. He prefers the simplicity of loving God and leaving the rest to the theologians. His basic argument is that such things can and often do take away from our ability to live the Christian life due to their “side-tracking” nature.
Let me paraphrase a comment he would typically make:
“Whether you are a Calvinist or an Arminian, a traducianist or creationist, believe in soul sleep or intermediate bliss, believe in transubstantiation, consubstantiation, or memorialism, none of these ultimately makes any difference. In fact, these beliefs serve more to bring about sinful divisiveness than anything else.”
In other words, this is illustrative of those people who would say, “I don’t want to know about God, I just want to know him.”
This attitude with regard to theology is not uncommon at all. In fact, it seems that it has a lot of truth to it. It would seem that simplicity in our confession and faith would ultimately bring about the most unity and acceptance as well as provide more energy for the things that really matter. Right?
Well, if you are saying that more knowledge is dangerous, I agree. Knowledge can puff up. Knowledge can provide ground for strong opinions, lack of perspective, and, ultimately, division. But if you are saying that because of the dangers of knowledge it is not worth the risk, I disagree.
Let me give you an illustration that I think provides a sufficient parallel to the current issue. Knowledge is a dangerous thing. So is a lot. Knowledge of what? Well, anything. But most specifically, we could apply this to relationships. When we enter into a relationship with someone, we take risks. Relationships involve us becoming vulnerable. When we allow someone to get to know us, there is always the possibility of misunderstanding, rejection, and a sort of Trojan horse pregnability of our heart. The same is true concerning those with whom we enter a relationship. Knowledge about them is dangerous. Not only for them, as they expose themselves, but for us as we put our own idealism about them on the line. In other words, you may know someone from a distance who you have placed on an idealistic pedestal. Once an opportunity comes for you to deepen that relationship, closing the blissful distance, you are entering into dangerous territory. Why? Because now you are opening yourself up to knowing the real person. All masks will soon come off and then you will have to nuance this relationship based upon your more up-to-date and accurate knowledge of the person. This process is certainly reciprocal and it is risky—it is dangerous—for both parties. While new discoveries will certainly bring about joy and depth in the relationship, they can also bring about a great deal of pain and emotional distance.
When the fear of relational knowledge becomes so great that people guard themselves against all forms of vulnerability, disorders follow: schizoid personality disorder, avoidant personality disorder (AvPD), social anxiety disorder. Such people become closed and guarded, hoping that this will leave them protected, safe, and secure.
While people might rationalize their timidity due to the reality of the dangers that are involved when knowledge is attained, this rationalization is misleading. The avoidance of knowledge causes us to neglect a basic need of humanity—intimacy.
I fear that this is often the case when people rationalize their avoidance of theology. Theology is simply coming to understand God at a deeper level. Yes, there are risks, just the same as any relationship. There are risks of misunderstandings, changing your ideals, opening yourself up to criticism, and coming to know both the wonderful and (what might be perceived to be) the not-so-wonderful things about God. There is also the possibility of division and strife as you defend what you believe to be true. But is this really any different than any other relationship?
What I find is that people have a theological disorder when it comes to truth. They are theophobic (theology, “study of God” + phobia, “fear”; or veriphobic (veri, “truth” + phobia, “fear”). Really it is simply a rationalization of some sort of a Theology Avoidance Disorder (ThAD). It is saying to God that you are not interested in coming to know about him, his word, or his truth (at least in any detailed way), but you, nevertheless, want to experience all the benefits of the relationship.
Symptoms of Theology Avoidance Disorder:
- Increasing apathy toward theological issues
- Belief that theological discussions are counter-productive since they often cause divisions
- Isolating one’s theology from their relationship with God
- Separating “devotional time” from “study time”
- An increasing antagonism toward labels
But let’s continue the illustration. Women, how would you feel if your husband or boyfriend approached you the same way? What if he said, “Listen, I want to have a relationship with you, but I really don’t want to know too much about you. If I do, I may be disillusioned and you may not like me. There are also going to be opinions that I have about you may not be shared by others who know you, such as your mom, dad, and brother. Therefore, if we are to have a relationship, let’s keep all knowledge to a simple minimum. I don’t want to know about your past, future plans, or anything that might make me uncomfortable. Nothing divisive. Just give me your name and tell me that you love me. That will be enough.” The answer is simple. You are asking for a superficial relationship that protects your ideals and is “safe.” But the reality is that it is not a relationship at all.
I know that this illustration is simplistic, but it does catch the mood of what I am trying to say. Ignorance is bliss, but bliss is not God’s will for us. He is not asking you to be in a minimalistic blissful relationship that is safe. Nothing about knowing our God is safe in that sense. It will often cause confusion, disillusionment, hurt, division, and distance. But isn’t that the truth of all relationships? They also bring about joy, comfort, hope, peace, and unity.
God has invited us to take the risk of coming to know him. He has revealed himself and provided a lot of information about himself. The Bible is filled with knowledge of our God. A little knowledge of him is dangerous . . . so is a lot.
I am not saying that knowledge is all there is to our relationship with God, but it is foundational. The effort to come to know God, even if we come to some wrong conclusions, is an indispensable part of the process of “doing” the relationship. It is the same in all relationships.
Either way, the adoption of a Theology Avoidance Disorder is not a Christian option.