Theology for me has to be practical. I am not saying that this is how it must be for everyone. I am merely saying that this is how it must be for me. So often, Theology exists in the realm of the “Why?” but for me, Theology exists in the province of the “How?”
In seminary, for instance, I remember sitting around debating and discussing “Why is there evil?” It was always a delicate tightrope of acknowledging God as the Creator of all, but yet, somehow, not the creator of evil. This devolved or expanded into other “why” questions: “Why would God create Satan if Satan were going to become evil?” “Why would God put a tree in the Garden of Eden and tell Adam and Eve not to eat it when God knows everything and knew that they would eat it?” For me, then and even more so now, I never really cared about the “why” and wanted to address the “how.” So my questions were more along the lines of “Regardless of WHY there is evil, HOW do we live in a world in which there is so much of it about?” “How do we talk about evil?” “How do we engage evil?” “How do we endure evil?”
I was always comfortable accepting that “Why?” was none of my business. Besides, the few times in my life when I wanted to know “why” someone did something or other, the “why” very seldom seemed to help. Knowing why there is evil does not change the fact that evil exists and that from time to time I must confront it and experience it and suffer it. In those moments, the why does not matter. The only thing that matters is the how of getting through it.
Why is there suffering in the world may ultimately teach us something about the nature of suffering that can ultimately help us to eliminate suffering in the world. But in the meantime, we must constantly treat the symptoms of suffering. We must ask how suffering manifests, how it is to be engaged, and how do we endure it when we experience it. We have to survive the suffering before we can begin to understand the causes of suffering.
I am not saying that “Why?” is not important. I am simply saying that it is for others to explain why; my task is to explain “How?” HOW does faith in God and Jesus Christ help me overcome loneliness, fear, and anxiety? HOW can faith in God and Jesus Christ help me to get along with other people? HOW can this faith help me to rise above pain, sorrow, and despondency? HOW can faith in God help me to overcome my desires for things that destroy? How can faith make a difference in my life; and more importantly, how can my faith make a difference in the lives of others?
When I used to drink, I used to drink over the little things of everyday life: a bill I could not pay, an argument with a friend or family member, something that happened at work, a flat tire – all the stupid, mundane, everyday things that happen hundreds of times throughout any given week or month. The big things, like death or illness or some other crisis or potential catastrophe, had to be dealt with and usually required me to stop drinking long enough to manage.
My Theology is like that. We often spend all our time discussing the big things in Theology but not the mundane, everyday theology of existing. I need a theology that is useful in the little, everyday avenues of my life. The big things I will deal with as they arrive because the big things I worry about rarely appear and the big things that do appear are usually things I never saw coming. But the flat tire when I am already running late for work, the neighbor’s dog pooping in my yard, the obnoxious co-worker, the mother-in-law who takes delight in pushing my buttons – I need a theology that gets me through these.
The cynic in me sometimes believes that we like to keep theology in the realm of the big things and in the “why” because then we never have to get around to living in the “how.” It is a safer way to live. But when people come to me in a crisis, even when they ask “Why “ would God do this or allow this, they are usually asking “How are they going to make it through this?” and “Given the fact that this happened, how am I supposed to trust or love or even like this God who allowed it?”
When I have been in those situations, even as a priest, the last thing I want is people spouting Bible verses at me. I cannot eat verses when I am hungry. I cannot pay my bills with Bible verses. Bible verses are not going to keep me warm when I am homeless. Bible verses are not going to kill my disease, or bring back someone who died, or put clothes on my back. I just want to know how I will get through it, and how you can help – and telling me that all things work out for good for the one who believes when I am in the midst of the tragedy I am experiencing is not helping me, it is only helping you.
My relationship with God is ongoing. It is 24/7. My theology has to be ongoing and 24/7 as well. My relationship with God is not limited to an hour or so on Easter and then on Christmas and maybe on Sunday morning. My relationship with God is when I am brushing my teeth, mowing my lawn, interacting with family and friends. My relationship with God plays out in the boring, common, everyday things and events of my life. This is fitting for a God who sanctifies us with common water in Baptism, and who is made present with us in the common elements of bread and wine. This is fitting for a God who heals us and consecrates us with the common element of olive oil. This is fitting for a God who talks to us through people, who ministers to us through people, who interacts with us through people.
God is in the everyday and in the everywhere! God has taken what is plain and ordinary and mundane and has made it sacred. This is no less true for each of us. And this is my theology – a Theology of “How?” How do I find God each day as I go about my plain, ordinary, mundane life? How do I allow others to see and experience God as I interact with them in these plain, ordinary, mundane relationships?
God is practical enough to come to us in the ordinary. Am I practical enough to find Him there?