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The Science of Living Blessedly Forever
William Perkins famously described theology as the “science of living blessedly forever.” This may be the best definition to date. It assumes the that the Smile of God is the chief aim of the theological task, refusing to reduce the enterprise to vacuous “God-talk.”
It assumes that Christian doctrine is a rational faith. There is no leaping beyond reason in order to feel one’s way through to some existential sensation of religiosity. It is the True Science before which all other wisdom bows. It is science in the purest sense, contemplating the Ground of Knowledge and then tracing that which may be known back to its luminous center. This is what the old divines meant when they spoke of theology as being concerned with “God and all things in relation to God.”
In just this way theology becomes an act of obedience to the Greatest Commandment—minds are offered in love to the Object of Supreme Delight. Just so, the intellect becomes servant. Then, as pedagogue, the intellect instructs the affections and directs the will. In this way, all discipleship is a theological enterprise.
It follows, then, that a theology that is properly rational is also naturally practical. It is the “science of living…” But this is a certain mode of living; living coram Deo, “before the Face of God.” Whether eating or drinking, all should be done for the glory of God. Given this, there is no such thing as an non-theological thought. One may choose not to retain God in his knowledge, to ponder the world as a neutral entity, but this too is a theological disposition. But we tend to know it best by its proper name: atheism.
A rightly ordered mind, which is to say, a Christian mind, follows the impulse of the Spirit captured in the words of St. Paul, “that I may know Him…” Every thought is taken captive under the easy yoke of Christ. This the the aim of theology—to know that which “passeth knowledge,” to know the One “whose ways are past finding out,” to understand even by our dim lights that “of Him, and through Him, and to Him are all things.”
Contemplation of God is made manifest chiefly in adoration. Theology is the mind at prayer. The desert monk Evagrius was correct: “A theologian is one who prays; one who prays is a theologian.” Theology is the labor of the soul that follows hard after God. It is the pursuit of living “blessedly” before the Face of Him who is Altogether Lovely. It is, as it were, preparation for beatification. And this means that Theology is fruitful.
Theology is ordered toward worship. And worship is the chief end of creaturely happiness. In glorifying Him we find the secret of true blessedness. This, said the Westminster divines, is the “chief end of man: to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever.”
This “blessedness” is more than sentimental happiness; it is deep joy rising from the endless treasures found at God’s right hand. It is a communicated holiness received in the secret place as one studies the Most High, dwelling under the Shadow of the Almighty. Here we receive the benediction of our souls. Like Moses, God causes our countenance to shine with the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ. As we behold His face, even through this earth-darkened glass, we are changed by the same image from glory to glory. This holiness gives health to the bones and grants richness to the marrow; it makes for fat souls, filled with all the fullness of God. This holiness is “wholeness.”
Theology is ultimately teleological. Such blessedness will not be circumscribed; it crosses the boundaries of time, refusing to stay buried beneath the cool earth. It is the science of living blessedly “forever.” The theologian is one who spends the morning hours and the night watches in search of the Beloved, seeking him in the secret place of the stairs, hoping to catch another glimpse of Him through the lattice. Even sleeping, the heart wakes in expectancy. He will come in His time.
While waiting, the theologian joyfully hears the question of the skeptical Daughters of Jerusalem: “What is thy beloved more than another beloved?” To contemplate the answer is Theology. And at the last, light from the East will wake the slumbering soul. His voice will come and death will melt away. “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” In that moment the Theologian will begin the study anew—and for all eternity—the science of living blessedly forever.
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