(Read part 8 here)
WHICH BRINGS US BACK to our earlier question: Is theology really important for women? The writer to the Hebrews answers with a resounding yes, perhaps more emphatically than we are prepared to hear. Abruptly and with a measure of exasperation, he halts his discussion and, like a well-informed surgeon general, stamps a glaring warning label on his letter — to warn us not of the dangers of theology but of the hazards of getting too little of it. I can’t help feeling a bit shocked every time I get to this point in his letter. His words land like a punch, but it is straight talk women need to hear.
There is so much more we would like to say about this. But you don’t seem to listen, so it’s hard to make you under- stand. You have been Christians a long time now, and you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things a beginner must learn about the Scriptures. You are like babies who drink only milk and cannot eat solid food. And a person who is living on milk isn’t very far along in the Christian life and doesn’t know much about doing what is right. Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognise the difference between right and wrong and then do what is right. HEBREWS 5:11–14 (NLT)
This is where a lot of us act as though we are reading some- one else’s mail instead of a private letter addressed to us—a clever tactic to dodge the sting of this rebuke. But this letter isn’t addressed to a gathering of church leaders or exclusively to men. The author is talking to Christians of all ages, including women. Instead of setting the letter aside as “too deep” or “not meant” for us, women need to close the door behind them and read as though the letter bears our name and was written by someone who knew exactly what we need to hear.
The writer is taking us to task for settling for a diet of theological pabulum ideas about God that don’t require chewing and go down easily. He urges us to tackle a meatier diet that will fortify us for the task at hand. And why is he so concerned? Our spiritual health is at stake, for starters. But the ramifications are greater. The facts are simple. A soft diet will stunt our spiritual development, stagnate our relationship with God, and weaken the body of Christ. When women neglect theology, the negative side effects ripple out from their private lives through their families and friendships, right on into the church.
Several years ago I visited a couple whose children were all grown, except for one. Their daughter, then in her mid twenties, had never physically or mentally matured beyond the age of a very young child. Anatomically undersized and grossly stunted developmentally, she could not walk, talk, or feed herself. Twenty-four hours a day, her parents lovingly and patiently took up the burden of her unending care - bathing, diapering, and dressing her, carrying her from bed to wheelchair and back again. Three times a day they spooned food into her mouth and wiped the excess dribbling down her chin. They poured never-ending care into her life and will for the rest of her life. They wouldn’t dream of offering the same care to their healthy children. Had one of them resisted feeding themselves or refused to advance from pureed foods to eat meat and vegetables at the grown-up table, these parents would have been firm until the child ate solid food, not for their convenience but for the health of the child.
The letter to the Hebrews makes it abundantly clear that refusing solid food will stunt our growth. The assumption is that all of us are capable of a deeper understanding. But a light diet sentences us to a life of dependence. Fixing our eyes on Jesus means advancing from baby food —the basic concepts of Christianity — to an adult diet of deeper theological truth about Jesus. It means we have to learn to feed ourselves — reading and studying the Bible not in search of some tasty morsel to help us through the day but in search of God. Ultimately it means we should feed others as well.
Theology, to put it bluntly, is good for women, for the more we understand of Jesus, the more there will be for our faith to cling to when we are in crisis. Centre on yourself, and discouragement is sure to set in. Look at circumstances or at someone else, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and ready to give up. But make Jesus your focus—delve into his character, remind yourself that he is on his throne, that you are loved, that even now he is fulfilling his good purposes for you—and you will find a thousand reasons to keep going, even over the roughest terrain. We are stronger and have greater powers of endurance when we are properly nourished. Theology also enriches our relationship with Christ himself, which ought to be reason enough for us to get down to business. Nothing depletes us more than trying to maintain a one-sided relationship with a husband or a friend who has lost interest in us. Yet we are the guilty party when our curiosity about Jesus cools and we think we’ve learned enough. Fixing our eyes on Jesus means that instead of always reaching into his pockets for something we want, we will reach for him. It means investing in Jesus the same ongoing levels of time, energy, interest, and listening powers that we ache for in our human relationships. It is the road to joy, drawing us closer to him and satisfying the deepest longings of our souls,no matter how empty the rest of our lives may be.
But the concern is more than personal, as the writer’s warning intimates. Malnutrition impairs our ability to function as healthy members of Christ’s body. The New Testament is emphatic. All women are called to be teachers, to live and speak the truth to those around us. When we are lackadaisical toward theology, too busy, too tired, or too fearful to wrestle with what the Bible says about God, we not only hurt ourselves and retard our relationship with Christ but we weaken other Christians who depend on us to be strong for them. The writer to the Hebrews makes about as pointed a statement of the importance of theology for women (and the serious consequences of neglecting it) as we will find anywhere in Scripture.
It may take a stern warning like this to shake us up and get us going. But higher motives will soon take over: the prospects of a deeper delight in Christ, along with improved strength and courage.
Taken from When Life and Beliefs Collide by Carolyn Custis James. Copyright (c) 2001 by Carolyn C. James. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com
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Carolyn Custis James (BA, Sociology; MA, Biblical Studies) thinks deeply about what it means to be a female follower of Jesus in a postmodern world. As a cancer survivor, she is grateful to be alive and determined to address the issues that matter most. She travels extensively both in the US and abroad as a speaker for churches, conferences, colleges, theological seminaries, and other Christian organisations. She is an adjunct professor at Biblical Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, blogs on www.whitbyforum.com and Huffington Post / Religion, and is a contributing editor for Leadership Journal.