by Robert Brow (www.brow.on.ca), Kingston, Ontario, October 2006
Theology is the science of knowing God. And in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught this by encouraging us to look at the nature around us. "Look at birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them" (Matthew 6:26). John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God. That invites me to look more carefully about animals. In an earlier story I wrote about "Caterpillar Theology." If God has life after death in mind for caterpillars surely death can’t be the end for humans.
Many years ago a documentary made a great impression on me, but I never figured out how it might apply to God. The camera captured a mother bear training her pup for all the skills that it would need to survive out in the world. Then came the day when the mother fiercely drove the young bear away. And that orphan now had to go it alone.
I thought at the time that God is certainly not like that. He will never drive me away. But now I can see that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each have periods of training and then leaving me to work out what I have learned in the battles of life. This explains the feeling of being abandoned by God that so many have reported.
As we extract theological insight from parables and metaphors we are not to look for a meaning in every detail of the story. In each case there is only one lesson to be understood. When Jesus is called a lion we are not to imagine he lives by eating others. So what is to be learned from mother bear theology?
Earlier this year on May the 13th I was flattened in hospital with a stroke that left me helpless and unable to swallow. In fifty years of Christian ministry I had tried to comfort others in their sickness. Now I had nothing to offer, even for myself. I still believed in the love of the Father, and I still wanted to serve my King and Friend. But they did not seem to be around in my moments of desperation. I still knew that the Holy Spirit could give all the wisdom and courage that I needed, but all that was available was the busy attention of the nurses checking my soaring blood sugar and giving me insulin to keep me alive.
Now five months after the stroke I can see that God the Father was still caring for me, Jesus continued to be my friend, and the Holy Spirit had much more for me to understand. But like that mother bear God left me alone to learn in practice what weakness is all about.
Paul had this experience of being abandoned again and again. "Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea" (2 Corinthians 11:24-25). In each of these terrible experiences he must have prayed but God was silent. But Paul’s conclusion in the next chapter is that "whenever I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10).
I do not wish a stroke, or financial disaster, or betrayal, on anybody and I certainly hope I will never feel abandoned like that again. But I think I can now see what Mother Bear Theology is about.
by Robert Brow, www.brow.on.ca, September, 2006