What Price Theology?

Two things have been uncomfortably juxtaposed in my experience this past week. On the one hand, I have been much absorbed by the many aspects of preparing for the launch of a Masters in Theology degree at Zomba Theological College. On the other hand, all around me are the devastating effects of Cyclone Ana, the national infrastructure staggering while many individuals have lost their homes and seen their crops washed away.

It presents in a concentrated form a question that has often nagged me: in face of all the pressing needs of communities in a country like Malawi, can I justify making theology my main preoccupation? Is it not an indulgence, a luxury, an irrelevant kind of activity when people need food and clean water, employment and decent housing?

If there is an answer to this question, it might be that theology is about getting things right at the level of the human person. This was a major theme in the work of one of Malawi’s outstanding theologians, Augustine Musopole, whose sudden death soon after Christmas we are still mourning.

At first, it sounds contradictory to suggest that theology is about humanity. Is theology not supposed to be about God? And if we concentrate on humanity, might we lapse into a humanism where there is no place for God? Not if we follow Musopole’s way of handling the issue. For him it was a matter of humility to recognise that we are all too human even when we are doing theology, which he called “a celebrative reflection of our being with God.” He also returned again and again to the point that it is in Jesus that we discover our true human identity and destiny.

If we take an issue like climate change, the underlying cause of last week’s Cyclone Ana, there are many aspects to it. But our failure to address it effectively seems to come back to failures at the level of the human person. As things stand, we seem to be unable to muster the imagination and courage that would be needed to meet this most urgent threat. Here is where theology needs to do its work. It too is done by fallible human beings but if its faith perspective can enable us to discover our God-given identity and dignity, might it be the game-changer we are waiting for?

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