Theology and a Blow-Up Doll

I was at Cedar Ridge Church in Maryland last Sunday and the sermon, led by two of the church’s pastors, revolved around the issue to caring for those on the margins. To construct their theology on this issue, the speakers showed some clips from the recent move Lars and the Real Girl.

In this film, Lars, a quiet, introverted, stand-off-ish type or person has a guest stay with him for a while. This guest, however, is a life-size inflatable doll that he believes to be a real person. Although I thought it was interesting how the speakers tied this movie into their discussion on caring for those on the margins of a community, I drew another metaphor from the film.

Many people possess theologies that they believe to be completely real and 100% true. As they would say, they are truly true. Yet these people are like Lars; while they believe their views are totally true, they are, in reality, false. They have become inflated by other people, communities, and themselves. Gordon Kauffman believes that no human being can know about God. They can surmise, hypothesize, and theorize, but no one can truly know about God, for our infinite God cannot be fully captured or understood in finite language or human thoughts. As soon as people believe their views of God to be totally true, therefore, they have idolized their views, placing them above God in the importance in their lives. Like Lars, many people cannot see that their views of God are not really God, but inflated, partial perspectives of the vast character of the creator, sustainer, and redeemer for the world.

So, how are we to understand God? How do we come to know a bit about the infinate God? We talk. And we listen as others talk. And we reflect on what we have heard. And we talk. And the cycle continues in a process that is similar to what Catholic religious eductor Tom Groome calls “shared praxis.” As we talk and listen and reflect, we should not seek to come to a point where we know God and know about God so perfectly that we do not need to talk anymore. Rather, the point of this approach is to generate more talk, listening, and reflecting. It is ongoing, neverending, for none of us can know God entire.

Let’s deflate our blow-up doll theologies and engage in robust conversation in order to see more and more of this unknowable God.

2 thoughts on “Theology and a Blow-Up Doll”

  1. I was right with you until the next to the last paragraph. I was very shocked that Scripture did not even enter your conclusion. I think you’re absolutely right that left to our own devices we would only create a blow up version of God and treat it like the real thing, but could it be that God has done the amazing work of revealing Himself to us in both a written and human form? What roles do the Bible and its testimony to Christ play in how we shape our view of God. If we just talk, who knows that I’m not just letting your blow-up God help shape my blow-up God?

    Either way, thanks for the note.

  2. While I agree that Scripture is an important component to this conversation, I must ask you a question: whose version/interpretation of Scripture is the real, non-blow-up-doll version? Is it the Catholic version? How about the Evangelical or Mainline Protestant version? Is it your version, my version, or George W. Bush’s version? You see, we all read Scripture through our own lenses, which are made up of our knowledge, feelings, experiences, narratives and world views. So how are we to be certain which version/interpretation of Scripture is the correct one? I agree with you that God’s work of revealing Godself to us through the Bible is amazing! But maybe as we read it with our fallible human views, we begin to blow it up like a doll and carry it around with us thinking that it’s the real deal. Although there may be elements of our interpretations that are real or true, how are we to know which version or whose interpretation is most real and true? I’d welcome your comments on this. And thanks for your comments about my note.

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