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Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Simple vs. Simplistic

Those in higher education as well as those who have lived longer understand that things are rarely as simple as they seem. Science is complex, as are math, engineering, cartography, psychology, and a great many other disciplines. Theology is no exception. I know firsthand the possibilities of seeing complicated problems with simple statements. But few of us begin with such a complex understanding of things. When children ask, "Why is the sky blue?" it is acceptable to reply with, "God made it that way." But later on, while the original answer may still be true, a deeper answer will become appropriate. "It's the reflection of light against the oceans back into the atmosphere." This is still true, but it is a truth that takes into account the cognitive growth of the questioner.

I have voiced elsewhere how I think this is true in the realm of religion as well. When someone immature in faith asks, "What did Jesus say?" it is acceptable to point to a single passage and read it. Later on, however, we (should) learn to ask, "Why did Jesus say…?" We move deeper from the "what" to the "why," the "how," and other questions. (In truth, this post was borne out of having recently heard the phrase, "Jesus (or God or the Bible) said it, I believe it, and that settles it.")

In a similar fashion, when we do God's work in the world, we may start by asking, "What does God want us to do?" As faith deepens, so do the questions. "Why is this God's goal? Why should this be my goal? How does our understanding of the goal affect how we view God?"

With this in mind, this developing nature of the questions and the faith that drives them, we shouldn't forget the simple places where we began. Paul grew up and stopped being childish (1 Cor 13.11), but this doesn't mean he stopped being childlike. It is with childlike wonder that we continue to ask questions. Jesus values children and says those like children inherit the Reign of God (Mark 10.13-16; parallels in Matt 19.13-15; Luke 18.15-17).

Children are simple. But they are not simplistic. We are baffled by their deep questions for which we have no answers. They constantly ask questions, and as they grow the questions develop as well. As we grow in faith, our questions deepen, but as children do, let us never cease in asking questions. When we do, let's not mistake simplicity for simplification and avoid difficult questions in the process.

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