Theology is important

Understanding theology is important. Even those who are dismissive of religion need to take some time to understand the important implications of theology in our world today.

While religion is never the entire reason for some of the problems we face, the symptomatic expression of dissatisfaction with high unemployment and poverty sometimes manifests itself in religious extremism. This can, and often does, lead to conflict and even violence.

In our country, we have witnessed this in the angry extremism of those who would protest at the funeral of a fallen soldier, burn a copy of the Quran or produce a scurrilous video (that went viral on YouTube) with the intent of inciting the anger of ignorant, volatile and vulnerable people already on the edge.

The folks on all sides of these conflicts should know better. They have been exposed to the best teachings of their religion about compassion and forgiveness. They have been taught the lessons of love and affirmation. They preach messages of peace and always place this as their highest aspiration.

Yet, high aspirations do not always translate into real-world applications when fear is the motivating influence fomenting the desire for retribution. This brings us back to our need for a better understanding of theology. What you believe about God influences how you see and how you respond to others.

Derek Flood, author of Healing the Gospel: A Radical Vision for Grace, Justice and the Cross, does a wonderful job of helping us see the difference between a theology of retribution and one of restoration.

For Flood, those who advocate a theology of retribution have a view of God rooted in fear. This perspective of God has a human history that almost always ends in hate and violence.

Karen Armstrong, author of The Battle for God, pointed this out to the world in 2000. She argued that the toxic mix of poverty and religious fundamentalism within Judaism, Christianity and Islam was directing our world on a course of conflict beyond the normal differences expressed between these faith communities. She was not alone. Some of us had been talking about the destructive nature of fundamentalism since the late 1970s.

After Sept. 11, 2001, we were drawn into a theological battle that included political divisions, a war in Afghanistan and a war in Iraq. It has cost our nation and our world incalculable human treasure in the lives of those who were killed and those who will always live with the pain and suffering of injuries from these wars. In addition, we have spent trillions that could have gone for good purposes in our own nation. Yes, theology is important.

A theology of retribution leads to destructive patterns and cycles of violence. A theology of restoration, recognizing God as love, offers a path for all to live with respect for others and to work out differences with a tone of humility and grace. With a theology of restoration we can reduce and eliminate the tragic results of retribution and we would all get along much better.

The view of God as one of retribution represents a curse and is not consistent with the story of biblical redemption. The view of God as one of restoration represents a blessing and is the redemptive story of creation, reconciliation, justice, mercy, forgiveness and love. We must heal the curse of retribution before we are able to embrace the blessing of restoration.

This God of restoration allows us to celebrate the blessings of creation, family and friends. Each day we can express our faith in a simple way by affirming, “This is the Day that The Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

Here are some ways we are able to celebrate:

— Enjoy what we share together in common and celebrate the beauty of diversity.

— Enjoy what we value in common and respect the differences that make our freedoms and shared values so valuable.

— Enjoy your freedom to express your opinions and respect others when they do not agree.

— Enjoy healthy conversations and maintain a sense of humor.

— Enjoy being human and recognize that you have real limitations as a human;

— Enjoy orange juice, chocolate, coffee and great food that is healthy for you.

— Enjoy baseball.

— Enjoy the love of family and friends.

— In all of this, enjoy God and love God forever. Let us teach our children well with these simple affirmations of restoration.

“This is the day that the Lord has made.” Enjoy.

This article originally appeared on the ABPnews website on October 2, 2012.

Henry Green

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Henry Green is pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in Annapolis, Md.

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