How Theology Brings Us Rest
In the 1500s, theology referred to the ivory tower, high church scholasticism far removed from ordinary people. To combat the distaste and distrust theology brought, John Calvin preferred the word doctrine to describe biblical theology. Today, doctrine carries almost an oppressive tone to many who call themselves Christians, not because it oppresses, but because it restricts us to God’s Word alone (or it should, at least). Nevertheless, both theology and doctrine are good and necessary when properly understood, and for Christians, they bring us the desired end.
In its basic form, theology is the wisdom and knowledge that comes from the study of God and His works in His Word. Yet, even such a marvellous and holy task can be discoloured by us. Of course, man will use the study and wisdom of God to prop himself up for all to see, but that is not the purpose of theology, and that is not God’s purpose for revealing theology to us.
In Matthew 11, Jesus deals with the doubts of His forerunner, John the Baptist, and the rejection by the cities where He preached and performed miracles. To John, He gives reassurance, but to the cities, He pronounces judgement on them. However, the most notable response comes at the end of the chapter, where He reveals His attitude about doubt and rejection.
At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:25-30)
Jesus begins by revealing how theology works and concludes with the purpose of theology. Theology is wisdom and understanding, not achieved by human reason and intellect but revealed by God. To be sure our knowledge of God is correct, Jesus assures us that God really does know Himself. Therefore, the wisdom He reveals to us is accurate.
The important point to grasp here is not what the wisdom and understanding consist of, but how it is given to us. Jesus contrasts the learned scholars of His day with little children to warn us not to rely on our intellect or abilities and to teach us to rely on God’s unprejudiced grace. God does not look at our capabilities or intellect to determine if we can handle divine truth, He reveals and equips us for the task by His grace alone.
In this passage rests one of the most familiar passages of Scripture: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Yet, for us, we most likely only know it apart from its context and applied to every difficult situation imaginable. Thus, we do not understand what Christ’s yoke really is, nor do we bother to give our lives to learning from Him (become His disciple).
What we learn from Him to find rest for our souls is only understood in the context, and we have already established it to be theology. Thus, to find rest for our souls, we learn theology in the school of Christ.
We learn theology because Jesus became a learner alongside us. We learn from Him because He is “gentle and lowly in heart.” But, we also learn how to learn theology. We, too, must humble ourselves.
Humility is the route to learning, but it is the rest for our souls as we also find. Humility brings us to Christ empty-handed so that He might fill us. The soul-crushing burden we carry from birth is our pride-infused sinful nature from which we work as hard as we possibly can to attain the righteousness to quench our guilt. What is our natural reward? Death. And while we live? Meaningless selfishness. Christ, through the theology of God, brings us rest through humility.