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Theology is Great, But What I Really Need is Jesus

When I was in seminary at Earlham School of Religion, I was able to spend all my time studying and pondering the nature of God, Jesus, and the community gathered around him. I considered deep questions of meaning, reflected on Quaker history, and came to a more settled understanding of the Bible and Christian spirituality. I visited a wide diversity of Quaker churches and gatherings, gaining greater insight into who we were as a whole.

Since completing my time at seminary, my life has changed. Slowly, gradually, my life has shifted away from the kind of full-time reflection I enjoyed at ESR. I got married, had a child, and took on full-time employment. Life is very full. I don’t have the mental, physical, or spiritual space to live the kind of deeply contemplative, studious life that I experienced in seminary and in the years immediately following. I hope I will again someday, but I suspect it won’t be soon.

As my life has shifted in a less contemplative direction, my existential curiosity and angst has not diminished at all. If anything, the press of daily life, work, and child-rearing has made issues of meaning, purpose, and legacy even more urgent. I’m growing in my experience of what it means to support others as a husband, father, and resident of the city where I live. It’s full-fledged adult life in all its freedom and responsibilities, joy and stress.

And after a decade of asking hard questions and drinking deeply from the Quaker tradition, I’m convinced of this: All I really need is Jesus – a real, intimate relationship of discipleship with him amidst the noise and clatter of everyday life. I need him to guide my day, even as I’m in the midst of it and can’t see where I’m going. I need him to make my responsibility clear to me, even when it’s inconvenient. I need him to bear God’s love to me, even when I feel lost and unworthy.

For me, any theology beyond Jesus’ death & resurrection is a luxury – something that, while nice to have, I probably don’t have time for most days. I can’t live without Jesus, though. I need his cross to engage with tragedy. I need his resurrection to overcome it.

I need to experience Jesus’ sacrifice first-hand, in my daily surrenderings. I need his resurrection to hold me together when the confusion and pain seems like too much to bear. I need his guiding hand, giving me faith in a victory beyond the compromises and losses of daily life in this world.

I don’t have God figured out. I don’t have the Bible memorized. I can’t tell you how the Trinity works or explain the systematic theology of the great theologians. Probably never will. But I do know I need Jesus. I need him to heal me, hold me together, and guide me in the little steps I must take to be faithful amidst the day’s work.

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  • charlesburchfield

    …..I love this!
    ….though. “I need his cross to engage with tragedy. I need his resurrection to overcome it.”
    ….me too! `€=-)

  • Susan Chast

    Amen! What an exciting experience-full post! I might throw the emphasis slightly differently by adding Jesus’ birth and life to death and ressurrection, but this is what early Quakers experienced as well, I believe. As I get older and less driven by “doing well” at work processes (in addition to following my calling as teacher)–I also find myself waiting in this Inner Light for guidance rather than acting on my own instincts. I’m not quite sure how to say that, but I think you know what I mean. If I am mistaking your meaning, please let me know.

    • I think we’re on the same page. Thanks, Susan!

  • broschultz

    Having a personal relationship with Jesus might sound trite but there is a depth to it that most people don’t take advantage of. When you are in the midst of providing for a family in this country you are and will be confronted with numerous challenges involving choices between what the secular culture claims you should do to provide adequately for your family and what you know is the right thing you should do to love God and your neighbor as yourself. Following Jesus is the right way to live. All the money in the world can’t insure that your children are going to live up to their fullest potential in Christ. When my children brought their friends home I wanted them to feel welcome. I kept tabs on them and often asked my children how they were doing and when those friends asked me for help I gave it. Our relationship with God is even greater than that. All of God’s wisdom is available to us when we choose to be in relationship with Him through Jesus. And lest I forget there are supernatural acts that often bail us out of any mistakes we make along the way.

    • Thanks for the testimony, Jim!

      • Traci Kristine Rowland

        Great article, as always Micah. Thank you. Fun fact: For a few years when I was little, I lived a few blocks from Earlham.

  • Michael Jay

    While I cannot explain the great theologians either — there is a story about Karl Barth that says when asked what sentence best describes Christian theology, his answer was: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”

    I don’t know if this is true, but I do know that I had a theology teacher who’s view was if you want good theology, read Barth and T.F. Torrance.

  • Paul J Ricketts

    Thank you Micah Bales for the personal testimony of your experience of Jesus. Very warm and tender.

    When I was little my Nana babysat me. As a four-year-old I thought Jesus was her imaginary friend. Jesus was a member of the household and she talked to him about anything and everything. He was a friend and constant companion. And on whose shoulders I stand on today.

    But, sadly, I was taught at Evangelical Christian college that there were insiders and outsiders.

    From the Quakers I learned about the inclusiveness of grace. People are people, good or bad, and God loves them/us all. And as I have shared so many times with friends particularly in Quaker cyberspace, whatever language works for you and has integrity is good, I think. The way you or I speak of our faith (or anyone for that matter) is deeply personal and may well change over time. I suppose that if the words never change at all, then there is a good chance we are stagnant.

    The good news is, God is working in you (and in me) in ways that we do not yet understand. As we continue to listen, worship, pray, love and serve, it will gradually become clearer to us. I believe the same is true for me and for any person of faith. Words are just that. What is more important is the reality behind the words.

  • Joe Snyder

    Right on, Micah. We have such trouble in our Bible Study here with getting too involved with theology to experience Jesus. There is a consultation at the Friends Center in Barnesville, OH, this fall on “Who is Jesus to me.” Perhaps it needs your presence, or vice versa, or both. Information is not up yet, but it should be here soon:
    Yours faithfully,