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A Theology of Interruptions

Systematic Theology is a central part of the curriculum of any seminary. Systematic Theology takes the messiness, the sloppiness, the ambiguity of our God-thoughts and puts it all into neat rows, tidy categories. It gathers key Scriptures and a breadth of historical reflection and debate on a range of topics, and distills it cleanly. A typical Systematic Theology textbook will have sections on the theology of God, the theology of Christ, the theology of mankind, the theology of the church, the theology of last things, and so on.

Systematic Theology is foundational to any pastor’s training. I wouldn’t want to handle, week after week, the challenges of ministry without a deep and solid bedrock of it.

But the longer I’ve been a pastor, the more I see wide swaths of human experience crying out for theological reflection that no Systematic Theology addresses.

We have, for instance, a poor theology of time.

Or of friendship.

Or of aging.

In the next few weeks, I want to reflect biblically and theologically on a few of these less conventional, non-systematic, but theologically-starved parts of our life.

For instance, few of us have a theology of interruption. And I’ve never seen that discussed in a theological tome.

And yet we’re desperate for one. We have placed such a high value on convenience and efficiency that any interruption – a traffic obstruction, a bad internet connection, a sick child, a flat tire, a phone call when you’re in the middle of something – is seen almost as a personal affront. My habitual thought at such moments – and sometimes what rushes from my lips – is “Why me? Why this? Why now?”

Another word for that is whining.

My default is to hoard time like a miser. It’s to guard it like a Doberman. It’s to resent interruptions like thieves.

And yet the Bible is filled with amazing and holy things that happen in the thick of interruptions. The gospels and the book of Acts can be read, at one level, as chronicles of interruption. Jesus is teaching – and someone breaks the roof open above him and lowers a man down through the hole. He’s interrupted, but healing bursts forth from it. Or Jesus is walking to some village, and some loud beggar or pleading father or chronically ill women hails him or grabs hold of him. One interruption after the next, but the kingdom is loosed through it. Or Peter is fasting and praying, and swooning with hunger, and a vision tumbles down on him. Interrupted, but the entire course of history changes because of it. Or Paul is bent on destroying the church, and Jesus waylays him and turns him inside out. He is eternally and radically interrupted, but you’re a Christ-follower, all these 2000 years later, as consequence of it.

And so on, and so forth.

It happens so often in the Bible, it starts to look like interruptions are anything but. They bear uncanny resemblance to God-appointments, holy ambushes. The mess of human efforts and schemes, it appears, is continually overridden by divine choreography. God hides in the seeming randomness of things. God lurks in the inconvenience of the unplanned. God skulks in the surprise of the unexpected.

Let me put it bluntly: God’s main disguise is an interruption. Just take any gospel – Luke, say – and watch how often the kingdom of God – a healing, a miracle, a parable, an epiphany, a moment of breathtaking divine presence – breaks out through the device of an interruption.

If you watch that enough, three things start to happen.

One, you get a lot more curious about personal interruptions.

Two, you start spying God in them.

Three, you start wishing for more.

Question: What personal interruption did you discover God at work within?

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