Apocalypse: from the Greek apokalupsis; meaning revelation, unveiling, uncovering

Analysis: an investigation, an examination, a breaking-up into parts

When we read ancient stories about the god worshiped by the early Christians, we don’t get careful reasoning about what the deity must be like. Instead, we read claims to have seen, heard, and touched a god in the form of flesh, blood, and fire. The biblical God is a living god. Something deep in the human psyche longs for this kind of unveiling of what Rudolf Otto called “the numinous,” an encounter with a mysterium tremendum et fascinans.

But if you took that kind of earthy, apocalyptic, utterly-convinced religion too literally, you’d be a delusional fanatic. Some brilliant thinkers (like Pascal and Kierkegaard) have tried to rehabilitate the irrational side of Christianity, but it’s still mostly attractive if the person practicing it isn’t a close family member or friend.

All the fire and ash and thunder needs some kind of filter to be good for human life, which is where theology comes in. Theologians look at the work of God in the world from philosophical and historical perspectives. They analyze what happened in the past, what those events say about God and the world, how that reality about God and the world can interpreted in contemporary contexts, and how to communicate those contemporary implications to people.

That might sound boring, but, if claims about the divine grounding of all of reality happen to be true, then, as Rilke put it, “You must change your life.” Theology is an act of playing with fire, and the playing is done with a knife. The dangers of that sort of thing (false messiahs, brainwashing of the ignorant, abuses of power) mean that things must be reasoned as precisely as possible. Theology is a kind of surgery done on the mind and the soul rather than the body.

Jesus might have had a clear idea of what he was asking when he said “Follow me,” but we don’t possess such clear ideas ourselves. Instead, we have to continually guard ourselves against drifting into either a sleepy way of life that changes nothing and has no relation to God or an irrational fanaticism detached from reality. Theology is the act of analyzing the unveiling that has happened so we know what to do next.