Over the past cou­ple of weeks, I’ve been read­ing Tom’s Clas­sic Chris­tian­i­ty. It’s a big book, over 850 pages. Yet it’s a com­pi­la­tion of an even longer series of books, Tom’s three vol­ume sys­tem­at­ic the­ol­o­gy: The Liv­ing God (Vol. 1), The Word of Life (Vol 2), and Life in the Spir­it (Vol. 3). These three books run over 1400 pages. Tom cer­tain­ly wrote a lot about God, word upon word, line upon line, page after page.

Even as words about God poured out of Tom’s live­ly mind and warm heart, though, he observed the humor inher­ent in human beings’ the­o­log­i­cal pon­der­ings, efforts and offer­ings. We who love and pur­sue God, but don’t miss tak­ing plea­sure in the details, we are bipeds who dream of eter­ni­ty. Play­ing God, yet with masks show­ing our life as bums, clowns, and louts — yet bums who can say from the heart, Deo Glo­ria.’

As clowns we mime the pos­ture of Super­man; louts who can­not help but con­ceive of the idea of per­fect being. We are awed by the final judg­ment, but a lit­tle less so than about the brakes on our car. Inher­i­tors of large brains, we can­not bal­ance our bank accounts. Liv­ing souls puz­zled by death. We are such crea­tures who take up pen and ink and scrib­ble bold sen­tences about God, who breathe pol­lut­ed air as we pon­der the inef­fa­ble Spir­it; who use the name of God most often to inten­si­fy curs­ing, yet still pray to One whom we name Almighty.” 

I imag­ine Tom in God’s pres­ence at this moment. He’s dressed him­self in a pol­ka-dot­ted clown suit. On Tom’s face is a bul­bous, red nose and a joy­ful, infec­tious grin. He is a holy, hap­py, danc­ing jok­er, with wild friz­zled hair. Tom’s toss­ing words into the air as he par­ties before God. They float like bub­bles before God’s face and sud­den­ly pop, amus­ing Tom and draw­ing a chuck­le from the Lord, who is enter­tained, indeed, delight­ed at Tom’s antics. For isn’t there some­thing humor­ous about a tiny image-bear­er talk­ing and writ­ing about God? Yet God wel­comes our words of love and insight, delight­ing in our abil­i­ty to think and speak of him, to love him with our tiny, finite minds and mouths. 

Tom believed the dis­ci­plined study of God is best expe­ri­enced from with­in a light-heart­ed, car­ing com­mu­ni­ty that laughs at its own sober­est under­tak­ings. Those whose faith offers the cor­rec­tive love of admo­ni­tion to oth­ers give a great gift. But the gift is best wrapped in the bright­ly col­ored tis­sue of hope, in an atmos­phere where com­ic light­ness about the pre­tend­ed grav­i­ty of our words abounds.” 

Tom took truth very seri­ous­ly. He could be tough and dogged in a debate. He knew that rot­ten words about God bring death in their train. I have no doubt that he will­ing­ly would have died defend­ing the Holy Trin­i­ty or the divin­i­ty of Jesus. Still, Tom rec­og­nized the para­dox­i­cal nature of the human attempt to study Father, Son, and Holy Spir­it, an effort strewn with blood and flow­ers, with pass­ing wind and singing hymns.” 

The mar­tyrs them­selves occa­sion­al­ly evinced a holy sense of humor, some­times dur­ing their tor­ments. St. Lawrence, a Roman dea­con cru­el­ly mar­tyred dur­ing the Valer­ian per­se­cu­tion, said to his tor­men­tors as he died on a red-hot grid­iron, That side is done now. You can turn me over.” Tom right­ly com­ments: The tra­di­tion that can laugh, not unsym­pa­thet­i­cal­ly, at mar­tyr­dom, is sure­ly health­i­er than one that can only bemoan inhumanities.” 

I agree. Best not to take one’s words about God — and the rea­son­ing behind them — too seri­ous­ly. The health­i­er the study of God, the more can­did it remains about its own fini­tude, the stub­born lim­its of its own know­ing, its own cha­rades, Band-Aids, clos­ets, masks, and bro­ken windows.” 

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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