Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

The One Thing You Need When Studying God

March 4, 2016


A friend asked me recently, “What is most important to you as a theologian?” While there are innumerable ways I could have come at that question, my spontaneous response was: “Wonder!”

For me, in my package of ideals, my theologizing is defined by the capacity to sustain a sense of amazement, surprise, marvel, openness to unexpected answers that might set the mind off-balance. It’s defined by an astonished gratitude over the sheer gratuitousness of existence itself — why something rather than nothing? It’s also defined by a deep-seated humility that confesses with ever more sincere conviction that one never, in a final sense, “arrives” at the end of knowledge.

I beg God daily to sustain in me the desire and capacity to ceaselessly grow in knowledge and be affected, shaped, molded, reformed by what I discover of truth’s appearing in each new moment. Wonder teaches me each day that being grounded on the firm rock of truth is not the same as ossifying, just as certitude is not the same as hubris. Certitude raises a chalice to be filled, while hubris builds a fortress to be safe.

To be a responsible theologian means being open to learning from anything and anyone, without prejudice. It means to listen very closely, carefully, openly, with discernment. Every day, then, and every moment of every day becomes a new and joyful feast of the epiphany. Especially when your life is spent running about the playground of Divine Revelation, where the object (telos) of one’s quest is always beyond the limit and horizon of finite understanding. Maintaining a posture of sustained and lifelong wonder — being stuck in a perpetual state of wow — is supremely defining for me. In fact, I’d say the gift of faith that abides in the intellect necessitates restless wonder’s serial shock if it is to ascend nearer the divine Mountain whose zenith knows no peak. It’s no doubt why the liturgy always ends every prayer with those radically open-ended words, in saecula saeculorum, “unto the ages of ages.” Nyssa’s epektasis is exactly this.

This wondrous state of the theological mind, forever bubbling up from within the open Heart of the God-Man, gushes out into all other parts of life, staying the tide of bitter cynicism that can so easily overtake the one who becomes increasingly aware over the years of just how terribly awful humanity can be. The theologian, I mean, comes to share in the childlike mind of the One whose wonder perdured on the cross and even into the bowels of Hell where He could not help but preach the Gospel of hope to death’s prisoners (cf 1 Pet. 3:19).

The innermost meaning of wonder is fulfilled in a deepened sense of mystery. It does not end in doubt, but is the awakening of the knowledge that being, qua being, is mysterious and inconceivable, and that it is a mystery in the full sense of the word: neither a dead end, nor a contradiction, nor even something impenetrable and dark. Rather, mystery means that a reality cannot be comprehended because its light is ever-flowing, unfathomable, and inexhaustible. And that is what the wonderer really experiences… — Joseph Pieper