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Theology is like a Map

"I remember once when I had been giving a talk to the R. A. F., an old, hard-bitten officer got up and said, 'I've no use for all that stuff. But, mind you, I'm a religious man too. I know there's a God. I've felt Him: out alone in the desert at night: the tremendous mystery. And that's just why I don't believe all your neat little dogmas and formulas about Him. To anyone who's met the real thing they all seem so petty and pedantic and unreal!'

"Now in a sense I quite agreed with that man. I think he had probably had a real experience of God in the desert. And when he turned from that experience to the Christian creeds, I think he was really turning from something real to something less real. In the same way, if a man has once looked at the Atlantic from the beach, and then goes and looks at a map of the Atlantic, he also will be turning from something real to something less real: turning from real waves to a bit of coloured paper. But here comes the point. The map is admittedly only coloured paper, but there are two things you have to remember about it. In the first place, it is based on what hundreds and thousands of people have found out by sailing the real Atlantic. In that way it has behind it masses of experience just as real as the one you could have from the beach; only, while yours would be a single glimpse, the map fits all those different experiences together. In the second place, if you want to go anywhere, the map is absolutely necessary. As long as you are content with walks on the beach, your own glimpses are far more fun than looking at a map. But the map is going to be more use than walks on the beach if you want to get to America." Mere Christianity

Some people think theology is boring just as some people think maps are boring. Some people think they would rather experience God instead of studying a bit of theology, just as some people would rather take in a beautiful landscape instead of looking at a map. But if you want to get to where the scenery is really stunning in a particular country then you read guidebooks and follow maps to get there.

As Lewis says, theology is like a map; it tells you how to get to a certain place where the view of God is really spectacular. The Bible, in the same sense, is like a guidebook to experiencing God; it is not the experience itself but it shows us how to get to where we can experience God in a meaningful, positive and spiritually healthy way. And the Bible is the best guidebook to experiencing God, partly because it is based upon the experience of hundreds, if not thousands of people over a span of about two thousand years. That's why I get excited about the Bible when I begin to think of it in this way, just as I get excited about guidebooks and maps to my favorite country.

The summer I turned nineteen years old I spent four weeks traveling around the British Isles. It was fantastic. But I also had a lot of fun preparing for that trip, reading guidebooks and studying maps of England like this one:
























I got excited whenever I would look at a map of England or read one of those guidebooks because I knew they were going to lead me to the experience of a lifetime.

Just so, theology, creeds, Scripture can lead us to an even greater experience--the experience of knowing the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ.

This Jesus once said: "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life." (John 5:39-40)

Learning about Jesus through the Scriptures is wonderful, just as preparing for a trip to England by reading a guidebook is fantastic. But far greater than reading the guidebook is visiting the country itself. Far greater than reading the Bible is meeting Jesus.

May you be blessed with that real experience of meeting Christ through the Scriptures.

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