On sugar maples, Southern Red Bishops and theology

Southern_red_bishop
A Southern Red Bishop rests after feeding on tender grain at the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens in Roodepoort, outside Johannesburg, RSA

My father-in-law, John, is amazing. When I was dating his daughter, Amy (now my wife), I would sometimes visit their home near Auburn, New York. Usually at some point, her dad would proudly take me on a stroll in their park-like back yard,  pointing out the many species of trees, some of which he had planted himself. Looking at the trees, I could identify oaks, elms, and maples. For John, that was child’s play. In his youth, he had studied to be a forest ranger and had spent several years surveying in the Northeast. He knew not only the English names for all the trees, but the Latin ones, too, terms like acer saccharum (sugar maple) and ulmus americana (American elm).

I wish he could travel to South Africa. His health now would never allow the trip. If he came, I’d show him the Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens where not only are there many varieties of trees, but also birds. When it comes to birds, I’ll admit that I’m still weak in identifying different species, but little by little, I’m learning. And my favorite so far at Sisulu is the Southern Red Bishop. Riding my bike in our neighborhood the other day, I saw many birds, but instead of thinking “Look at that bird!,” I mused: “I hope that sacred ibis doesn’t decide to dive-bomb me!” My two-wheeled approach startled a pair of laughing doves, chasing them upward. To my right on the freshly mowed grass, a black-masked weaver pecked at a worm.

What applies to species of trees and birds applies to God. There was a time when I was content to just say “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” But with time, I don’t just want to know that I am saved. I want to know how salvation works. So we learn of soteriology, Christology, hamartiology, and the Christus Victor. Some think theologians needlessly complicate things. I beg to differ. The same God who made salvation simple enough for a child to understand made study of Scripture and theology profound enough for minds far greater than my own to spend a lifetime contemplating the mystery of redemption.

So let’s have at it. Let’s unabashedly dive in deep to all areas of knowledge and master each discipline’s vocabulary as an act of worship to our Creator God. And I’ll make you a deal: If you are interested in knowing more about tertium quid, conditional immortality, and the eschaton, I’ll keep plugging away in areas that hold less fascination for me, but where my interest can still be sparked. One day, I hope to shake my head in disbelief that I used to be satisfied with merely saying “tree” and “bird.”

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