Theological Reflection

Last Sunday I preached on wrestling with and submission to God – and a huge thank you to all those who said kind things about this afterwards, I was really quite touched and taken aback. Not that I’m keeping score, but I can’t recall ever having so much positive feedback after a sermon.

One of the things I encouraged people to do was to engage in some theological reflection and this can be done in a number of ways – in fact, I may well run a course on this next year, but in the meantime, let me offer one approach that might help you in your wrestling with God.

This is quite a structured approach that involves writing things down in a number of sections or steps. The steps can be given different headings (and you may have more than four or fewer – it’s up to you), but here’s a method I have found helpful, in which the steps are experience, exploration, reflection and response…

1. Experience. Write down in some detail the specific topic, situation or event that you want to reflect on. 

2. Exploration. Explore in some detail what you think was/is going on. If you were/are directly involved, what were your thoughts, feelings, emotions at the time and how did they inform your part in what happened? What do you know about yourself and how might this have bene in play? Now consider what might have behind the actions of any other people or parties involved – what do you know about them, what might they have been thinking/feeling? You won’t know for sure, but explore some ideas about this whilst recognising that their perspective is different to yours – we all see things in different ways depending on where stand – and where we stand is determined by our journey so far! Try to consider different angles or perspectives in a neutral, non-judgmental way, as an observer of the whole thing, as well as remembering how you were feeling yourself (and why) at the time. 
3. Reflection. In this step, try to think of some Christian resources that might speak into the situation. This might include a number of characters, stories or verses from the Bible. It might draw on wider Christian literature, it might be from the lives of Christian people in church history or world history. It might draw on similar experiences you have witnessed or read about where someone has responded very well in a difficult situation similar to your own. You might think of examples of Christian heroes of yours. What do things look like through these lenses? What might God say to you about what you said or did, or should do? Try to be brutally honest and at the same time deeply compassionate in your reflections. Hold yourself to account – leaving aside what others may have said or done, how did/should you behave? Make room in your reflections for a deep look at yourself and any confession, repentance and putting things right that you might consider appropriate. What might God be calling you to do?
4. Response. Based on steps 1 – 3, what (if anything) are you going to do? As a minimum, there might lessons for you in the experience (even if difficult) so that you can do better going forward. Also, there may be actions for you to take in response to any need for confession, repentance or making amends that you have identified as appropriate. Sometimes it will be helpful to share your reflections in confidence with someone you trust before arriving at any decisions about what, if anything, to do. 

As mentioned already, theological reflection can be done in many ways, and sometimes we can reflect in an artistic way – through painting, drawing, songwriting, poetry or other forms of creative writing. On the topic of wrestling and submission, I thought I’d share an example by Charles Wesley (see below). Clearly he was reflecting on the story in Genesis of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22-32) to which I alluded on Sunday!
Whatever form your theological reflections take, let me encourage you again to give it a try – God can use our experiences to shape us. What is your dialogue with Him about your experiences going to look like?
Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown by Charles Wesley
Come, O thou Traveller unknown,
Whom still I hold, but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with Thee;
With Thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle till the break of day.

I need not tell Thee who I am,
My misery and sin declare;
Thyself hast called me by my name,
Look on Thy hands, and read it there;
But who, I ask Thee, who art Thou?
Tell me Thy name, and tell me now.

In vain Thou strugglest to get free,
I never will unloose my hold!
Art Thou the Man that died for me?
The secret of Thy love unfold;
Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.

Wilt Thou not yet to me reveal
Thy new, unutterable Name?
Tell me, I still beseech Thee, tell;
To know it now resolved I am;
Wrestling, I will not let Thee go,
Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.

'Tis all in vain to hold Thy tongue
Or touch the hollow of my thigh;
Though every sinew be unstrung,
Out of my arms Thou shalt not fly;
Wrestling I will not let Thee go
Till I Thy name, Thy nature know.

What though my shrinking flesh complain,
And murmur to contend so long?
I rise superior to my pain,
When I am weak, then I am strong
And when my all of strength shall fail,
I shall with the God-man prevail.

My strength is gone, my nature dies,
I sink beneath Thy weighty hand,
Faint to revive, and fall to rise;
I fall, and yet by faith I stand;
I stand and will not let Thee go
Till I Thy Name, Thy nature know.

Yield to me now, for I am weak,
But confident in self-despair;
Speak to my heart, in blessings speak,
Be conquered by my instant prayer;
Speak, or Thou never hence shalt move,
And tell me if Thy Name is Love.

'Tis Love! 'tis Love! Thou diedst for me!
I hear Thy whisper in my heart;
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
Pure, universal love Thou art;
To me, to all, Thy mercies move;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

My prayer hath power with God; the grace
Unspeakable I now receive;
Through faith I see Thee face to face,
I see Thee face to face, and live!
In vain I have not wept and strove;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

I know Thee, Saviour, who Thou art.
Jesus, the feeble sinner’s friend;
Nor wilt Thou with the night depart.
But stay and love me to the end,
Thy mercies never shall remove;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

The Sun of Righteousness on me
Hath rose with healing in His wings,
Withered my nature’s strength; from Thee
My soul its life and succour brings;
My help is all laid up above;
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

Contented now upon my thigh
I halt, till life's short journey end;
All helplessness, all weakness I
On Thee alone for strength depend;
Nor have I power from Thee to move:
Thy nature, and Thy name is Love.

Lame as I am, I take the prey,
Hell, earth, and sin, with ease o'ercome;
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
And as a bounding hart fly home,
Through all eternity to prove
Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.

Simon Lace, 20/10/2022