I read Theological Worlds: Understanding the Alternative Rhythms of Christian Belief my first year of seminary. The book’s author, W. Paul Jones, assigned the reading as part of his class on theology and spirituality. The text included a questionnaire that was supposed to help students identify their theological world home.
Frustratingly, I didn’t identify with any of the worlds he described as alternative Christian theologies. My answers to the questionnaire were evenly spread across all five theological worlds. This made it difficult to complete the final class assignment -- a paper explaining the reasons why I thought I had a particular affinity for one world more than for the others.
I solved my problem by writing a paper that explained why I thought I was drawn to different aspects of each world. I identified with the spirituality of World One, the ethics of World Two, the anthropology of World Three, the christology of World Four, and the sociology of World Five.
Finding a way to finish the assignment was a relief but not a cure for the disquieting sense that I didn’t fit in. To quell the dis-ease, I reflected on the book’s concepts of Obsessio and Epiphania. According to Dr. Jones, each world had its own central concern and resolution to that concern. As I reflected, I tried to identify what my primary theological concern might be and how it might be resolved.
Movies provided the insight I needed. I recalled four movies that had brought me to tears, and I realized that the scenes that made me tearful had a common theme. They all depicted the hard-heartedness of a person or a group.
That was my obsessio -- my own tendency to harden my heart, as well as society’s tendency to turn its back on others and refuse to see their pain. My epiphania was the discovery that God’s grace could soften my heart and cause me to feel compassion.
These seminary memories were sparked by reading about the meaning of σπλαγχνισθεὶς. The english translation of Mark 1:41 states that Jesus was “moved by compassion.” In the Greek, the σπλαγχνα (splagchnon) of Jesus was moved, which is a reference to internal organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, bowels, or intestines. Feelings of compassion or pity were associated with these inward parts in Jesus’ time. Loving-kindness was felt in the viscera.
This is more than a gut reaction to a request for help. Jesus experiences loving concern for another and then acts out of that emotion. Variations of the word σπλαγχνισθεὶς appear eleven more times in the Synoptic Gospels, sometimes in reference to Jesus, once in a parable, and once when a father asks Jesus to cure his son.
Each verse, each example of the compassion of Christ evokes a sense of peace, hope and purpose in me. I want to follow the example of Christ. By God’s grace, I will be empowered to follow Christ’s example.
More than twenty-five years separate my seminary experience from this morning’s bible study, and yet the obsessio and epiphania remain the same. Hard-heartedness is my problem. An inward change that makes love possible is my salvation. This fits with what I remember of Dr. Jones’ teachings. We never outgrow our theological world. Our obsessio is never completely resolved. Our epiphania never loses its power to move us.
What’s your theological obsessio and epiphania? Is your world reflected in the prayers, hymns, liturgies, and sermons of the church where you worship?