Theology, the Logic of Wonder

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By David McGregor, Lecturer in Theology

The Jewish Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel believed that faith begins with wonder – or “radical amazement” as he preferred to say. He loved to quote Psalm 118:23 “This is the Lord’s doing and it is marvellous in our eyes.” Heschel reiterated this continually: “Among the many things that the religious tradition holds in store for us is a legacy of wonder…Indifference to the sublime wonder of living is the root of sin…Awareness of the divine begins with wonder…to be spiritual is to be amazed…the individual dies when they cease to be surprised.”

For Karl Barth too, the Christian life is one of absolute astonishment. Prayer, for example, “begins with the surprising realization that God is near.” It is not calling to a distant or indifferent God – for the very God we pray to evokes our call to him! Again, for Barth, to read the Bible is to enter a “strange new world” where everything is turned on its head. Approaching with our questions, we are surprised to find ourselves questioned! Attempting to find a way to God, we discover that God has “sought and found the way to us.” Theology – the science of thinking about this God – can only be the logic of wonder. “A quite specific astonishment,” Barth says, “stands at the beginning of every theological perception, inquiry, and thought, in fact at the root of every theological word.” The true theologian must be ever open for astonishment to “seize him like an armed man.”

In one of his novels Graham Greene speaks of “the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God”, and surely he is right. How shocking, unexpected and extravagant! The Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler has said it well: “Whenever humans encounter grace, it is the shock and the over-plus of sheer gratuity that announces presence, as indeed it invented the name. By gratuity is meant a primal surprise, the need-not-have-been of uncalculated and incalculable givenness. ‘Amazing’ is the only adequate adjective; wonder is the ambience. For amazement, wonder, and grace occur together ‘they were amazed at the graciousness of his words.’”

 Image: Wiki media-NASA

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3 thoughts on “Theology, the Logic of Wonder

  1. A Jewish rabbi and a German theologian both awestruck by The compelling grace of God. Wonders never cease. At least not with YHWH. Cheers, Dave.

  2. The day my ‘eyes were opened ‘ to Him also opened my eyes to wonder at the beauty all around I am so thankful for ! So opening the morning curtains to changing light , clouds, little birds and greening paddocks still fills me with awe and wonder and a longing for more and more to know Him and to wonder at the beauty of His knowing us ! One’ full of grace and truth’ !

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