Maggot Theology


Last night, an astute friend of mine called me to share a very odd conversation he had with a stranger at a 24-hour coin laundromat. It wasn’t your typical conversation. The stranger began a pointed theological discussion. I’ll try to relate it here simply as I can, “S” being the stranger and “MF” being my friend.


S: “Did you know that if God gives you a watch, and you check it to make sure it’s running properly, that you’ve offended God?”


MF: (somewhat taken aback): “I’m sorry, what was that?”


S: “If I was God, and I gave you a nice watch, and you started to adjust its time, you’d hurt my (God’s) feelings.”


MF: “That doesn’t make sense.”


S: “Sure it does. It’s like you saying to God, ‘I don’t trust you and I have to check this watch out for myself.’”


MF: “I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous. If God gives me a watch, He’d want me to use it like any other gift given to me, with reason. He wouldn’t mind that I adjust the minute hand or even took it to a watch repairman to check it out.”


S: “Ah, now you’re wrong. See, God doesn’t make mistakes, and since He is good and everything, He’d only give you something that works, and for you to take it in for service, or even to adjust the time, would be an insult. It would be like saying to Him, ‘I don’t trust you!’ or ‘You’ve made a mistake!’”


MF: “Nonsense! God gives us lots of mixed blessings that require discernment on how to use them. Not everything comes with an ironclad guarantee that it will be in working order, like a relationship, or immediate comprehension reading the Bible. Not everything is clear cut, and you might have to consult others with more expertise than yourself to make certain that you are prudently relating or reading.”


S: “You don’t understand. It’s like a maggot is trying to figure something beyond its ability. Compared to God, we’re pretty much maggots; we think like maggots and we reason like them as well. That’s why we need to take God literally, at His word and not question Him.”


My friend was growing frustrated, and rather than lose his cool, excused himself and moved away to tend to his laundry. After he shared the conversation with me, I agreed with him. I’d have been frustrated with this modern day Gnostic too, who claimed a superior, secret kind of knowledge about God’s intentions with respect to us maggots. First of all, we aren’t maggots but children of God, as is revealed by faith. And secondly, being made in His image, we share His ability to know truth, although in a much less clear fashion. God simply knows. He doesn’t have to reason things out--except when He’s dealing with us, human beings, because that is how we usually come to know things for ourselves.


In Scriptures, God sometimes makes a blanket command like “Thou shalt not.” We’re expected to ponder that command, even as we’re obliged to follow it. And sometimes God reasons with us, chiding or pleading when expressing His expectations so that we don't choose to disobey. He is pleased when we reason with Him like He reasons with us, as in the example of Genesis 18:32, where Abraham pleads with God not to destroy the city Sodom if only ten righteous people were found there. Or when Moses attempts to dissuade God from destroying Israel after making sacrifices to a molten calf of gold.


“Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, ‘He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of heaven; and all this land that I have spoken of I give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” So the Lord relented from the harm which He said He would do to His people.” (Exodus 32:11-14)


In a way, I’m wandering from the point only to make it more clear. For instance, we are expected to use reason and free will in light of what God reveals, even if our ability to reason is limited. We're expected to obey the commandments, but that obedience calls for clear thinking and reflection so that we might best fulfill them. We submit to the pope in matters of faith and morals, like we "Honor father and mother;" fidelity calls for a measured relationship of respect for all concerned. The Commandments, like all of God’s gifts, are meant to be appreciated and respected, which often requires reasoning on our part to understand what we’ve been given and what we're to do with that gift. In any case, theology isn’t for maggots. Our ability to reason to truth is a gift that sets us far above all other earthly creatures. Responsible use of our gifts is, in part, how we give thanks to God for them.


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