This December I will finish a six-year journey and mark the end of my Master of Divinity program. The looming finish line has caused me to do some reflecting about my time as a student. On one level, there are many practical outcomes that I anticipated in the beginning. I learned Hebrew and Greek, historical and systematic theology, missiology and ecclesiology, among other subjects. These are excruciatingly important tools that will be lifelong companions in the trenches of ministry. The content I learned in my courses will be indispensable for being a competent minister of word and sacrament. But these are not the most significant by a long shot. There are, however, several things that have changed the very foundations of who I am. One of my favorite theologians wrote in his memoir, “Most people do not have to become theologians to become a Christian but I probably did.” In the same way, I’ll say, most people don’t have to attend seminary to become a Christian but I probably did. So here are a few reasons why this season has been so important to me.
First, I am loved. I don’t receive love well. I am downright suspicious of it. I assume it has an agenda, or that any sign of affection is a mere courtesy of social fabrication. I am content to remain self-sufficient and at an arm’s length away. But the study of theology, if done with sincerity, cannot remain a simple academic exercise. You cannot remain an arm’s length away from the Triune Godhead’s invitation to join their eternal dance of love. No–the study of theology brings you to God the source and end of all things. I am truly heartbroken for any friends that don’t get the opportunity–either by choice or by circumstance–to embrace an intentional season contemplating this God in an academic community. I am also profoundly moved by my spouse’s love demonstrated through sacrifice. Six years of going to bed alone, Saturdays spent waiting for me to finish writing, and working a job that isn’t *necessarily*(she loves her co-workers and enjoys her work) her life’s passion, is a profound gift that I will never be able to repay. She believes enough in me, my gifts, and the importance of study for ministry, to submit herself to this laborious task with minimal benefit of her own. This gracious gift is a source of profound joy and gratitude in my life.
Second, I found communion. Yes, the sacrament, but also with others. I have learned to live the words, lex orandi, lex credendi — “the law of praying, is the law of believing”. Through assuming a posture that believes study is worship, I have come to learn that my life of prayer through worship forms my belief. This cannot be done in isolation; “me and Jesus” just won’t cut it any more. I have developed an intimate dependence on Christ through prayer, the scrutiny of study in community, and a humbling submission to the voices of the Church. Through this, I have found myself in a larger story and swept up in a narrative that can only be written by a resurrected Christ through the power of the Spirit at work in His Body–the Church. This Church is a people animated by resurrection power and they feed on the gracious gift of a crucified messiah week in and week out. We gather to proclaim, “Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again” every time we eat the bread and drink from the cup.
Seminary has provided a context for beautiful and intimate companionships that have inflicted sacramental wounds to my ego and to my “flesh” (in a Pauline sense). I have learned to put to death arrogance, sexist and racial bias, intellectual snobbery, and a damning desire for significance, platform building, and self-indulgence. I have not arrived, but I pray that these lessons will abide with me. I pray with the apostle Paul to receive these wounds as a joyful gift, a thorn, in order to “boast in my weaknesses” (2 Cor 12:1-10). I pray that I’ll limp with Jacob, the man who wrestled with God, and never was the same again. I found communion with Christ through sacraments and through others.
Third, I learned to discover, live with, and properly direct longing. I don’t mean to be a downer, but much of life is learning to come to terms with grief. The everyday realness of life is experienced through unmet expectations, broken and fractured relationships, a sense of finitude as we watch time slip away from us, dealing with catastrophic ramifications of our sin or the sin of others, and coming to terms with the brokenness of the world. We try to distract ourselves from grief with numbing mechanisms like, busyness, media, substance, the next vacation, jobs, indulgent lifestyles, hobbies, and relationships, but it will eventually all catch up to you. I’ve learned the important skill of converting my grief into longing. Longing is a universal human condition. We all miss a land that we have never seen. As St. Augustine says, “our hearts are restless, until they find rest in You”. I have learned to long for resurrection.
One of my favorite paintings is the center panel of the Ghent Altarpiece by Jan van Eyck. The “Adoration of the Mystic Lamb” is partly a depiction of Revelation 5:6, which is John’s vision of a slaughtered lamb reigning on the throne of God.
Jesus does not rule through coercive or dominating power. Instead, He rules through sacrificial subversion. He is cruciform. This slaughtered lamb rules the heavenly places with cross-shaped power and authority. He is ushering in New Creation life by his Spirit through demonstration of weakness. I long for the new Jerusalem. I long for the tree of life that will be for the healing of the nations. I long to see my kind, tender, and humble lamb-like Jesus face to face. When I anchor my longing on my blessed hope, I have come to learn that it shapes my life in beautiful and meaningful ways. It gives purpose to my life and hope for my wounds and pains. Not necessarily relief, but hope. I have learned to groan inwardly, along with the Spirit, for our ultimate adoption as sons and daughters of God.
Finally, seminary has taught me to not take myself seriously. There is always someone smarter. There is always a ministry that is bigger. There is always someone doing something “cooler” than you. As a matter of fact, I’m not that cool. I need to remember that I could be wrong about this or that theological position, biblical interpretation, or pastoral conviction. Be slow to speak and quick to listen. In the words of Kendrick Lamar, “be humble”.
Seminary has been an indispensable gift that has taught me about myself, the God I serve, and the role I’ll play in His divine drama. Thank you to every person that has supported me along the way.