Last week, Elaine and I were driving back home from visiting a friend, when a car recklessly veered into our lane. Fortunately, there was enough room on the shoulder for me to swerve away from his bullying move. As his car rushed ahead of me, every fleshly impulse in me fought to react to this injustice, and to let him know that he had nearly taken my life. I had to quickly reign in the carnal desire to see him pay for what he had done. Within seconds, before I had to time to obey these impulses, I was reminded that Jesus would not be pleased, and was not pleased, with my response.
In that very moment, what I believed to be true about God and about myself affected the way I chose to behave. (I am sure Elaine will have a much different take on this story. I don’t think I was as calm as I am describing here. But, lets move on….)
Theology matters. Really matters, even when we drive on a dangerous highway. Were it not for theology (my belief in God, or the study of God’s nature) were it not for doctrine (the belief and understanding of scripture) my life would be undisciplined and at best sloppy. Several years ago I began the discipline of processing everything that happens to me, from trials to disappointments, first through the grid of theology. I worked hard to react to things, to unexpected trials, to disappointments, unkind things said to me, or about me, by placing them next to what I believe and understand to be true about God. I watched two sons suffer cancer, reminded that these losses did not move God one bit off his throne. Were it not for theology, my life would have been sucked into despair.
There is something wonderful in embracing disappointments when you allow it to spill over into the grid of theology. To have that impulse to believe God is sovereign and good and loving (doctrinal truths) when someone marginalizes you, or overlooks you for someone else, leads to acceptance. You find yourself okay with it, because you believe God is a sovereign and good and a loving God, and he would not have allowed what just happened without permitting it. Furthermore, these disappointments cause us to embrace his unconditional love and commitment for us. He will never leave me nor forsake me. Others might, but he never will. To see God as just, and still good, when something unjust happens is the outcome of allowing that pain to spill over and fill out that sector of the grid that says God is always just, always good, always in control. In the end, he will sort out all that is wrong. Even this past month, I faced a significant disappointment. Before I allowed it to affect me emotionally (the result would have been discouragement and anger) I remembered again what I believed. Even in the disappointment, I did not forget what I know to be true. Because of it, discouragement did not lead to anger.
There are unguarded times when disappointments spill over into my own emotional grid, because I forgot for a moment what I believed about God and the way he works. What pulls me back, what gives me perspective again is truth; theology and doctrine. That is when the Holy Spirit gently reminds me of what I believe. He points me again to Jesus and reminds me to place everything against what he has told me about himself. This has to be why Paul urged Timothy to watch his life and doctrine closely. (1 Tim. 4:16)