From the Pastor's Study
From the Pastor’s Study
Nov 9, 2022
Recently I began to do a daily crossword once again. Years ago, when we received a daily paper, I would do the crossword nearly every day. I discovered that the more crosswords I do, the easier they become. I am nowhere nearly as proficient at completing a crossword as many people are, but, usually, I can finish 90% of the puzzle before resorting to helps.
I can work at solving crosswords, but I have never attempted to create one. I am guessing that creating crosswords is far more difficult than it might first appear. The crosswords I work at solving have between 50 and 80 clues, and the words of the puzzle all intersect each other multiple times. Sometimes a crossword even has a theme, making the creation of the puzzle even more challenging. When I do complete a crossword (rarely without help/cheats), I like to see how the words all interconnect.
In a sense, the creation is somewhat like a crossword. The various parts of creation all interconnect at multiple points. A plant, perhaps a dandelion, has a deep root which enables the plant to connect to the minerals in the subsoil. Further, the root is quite large, providing natural aeration activity. The leaves of the dandelion plant are good in salads. The flowers make good dandelion jelly and wine. The nectar makes good honey. And, if you like yellow, a field of dandelions is a sight to behold. I am sure that there are more ways that a dandelion interconnects with other parts of the creation. And that is also true of each and every component of creation. Every part connects with many other parts in a variety of ways. I am impressed by people who make crosswords; I am far more impressed by the God who created a world with so much interconnectivity. The creation is truly an act of genius, for while it is diverse, it also fits together.
We are often told that we can see God in creation. Normally we think of things like God’s power and his artistic abilities and his wisdom. But in creation we can also see that God is incredibly complex, that he is more like a crossword puzzle than a single, one sentence statement. As human beings who know that God exists and have access to his special revelation (the Bible), we seek to understand God better. As a result, over the millennia people have attempted to explain who God is. On my bookshelf I have a thick book written by a man named Louis Berkhof entitled Systematic Theology. In that book Berkhof, following the lead of many others, seeks to explain how this world is put together, beginning with God. He shows how ever part of life is connected to God somehow even while it is connected with other parts of creation. Berkhof’s work is limited to theology, and he doesn’t have us believe that he has told us everything. Rather, he wants us to understand a bit better how complex God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is, and he wants us to see how we are connected to him. Berkhof’s book, in some ways, is a lot like a crossword puzzle, for as he explains one part, he also tells how that one part (e.g. salvation through the atoning work of Jesus Christ) relates to another (e.g. the end of all things and the eternal life that follows).
The title of Berkhof’s book contains the word, “systematic,” meaning that the whole explanation of God in relationship to this world is a system, much like a crossword is a system or the created order is a system. An explanation of theology must, like a crossword, fit together. When I do a crossword and I misspell a word, for example, the rest of the puzzle doesn’t work. When we think about God and his world, if we are mistaken in some of our knowledge, the rest of the system doesn’t hold together. Thankfully, the work of putting everything together has been done over the centuries with Berkhof being just one of many, many theologians who have done a lot of hard thinking about who God is and how he interacts with creation.
Systematic explanations of what God reveals about himself have fallen out of favour lately. Even in seminaries which are meant to train students to think theologically, gaining an understanding of who God is and how he works in our world has been partly replaced by courses on how to run a church and how to make the church more effective. It’s not that those courses are bad; it’s just that seminary students are less likely to be able to fill in the blanks of the crossword puzzle that is God. And, because of that, when they become pastors in the church, they are not quite as likely to be able to help people when those same people have wrong letters or even wrong words in their understanding about who God is and how he works.
In the Christian Reformed Church, we have had a long tradition of seeking to fill in the blanks of the theological crossword. Traditionally, for centuries actually, the second service (now all but abandoned) was a time when we could think together about who God is and how he works. The second service focused on another of the systematic explanations of God, and we know it as the Heidelberg Catechism. Again, the catechism doesn’t say that it knows everything, but it does help us begin to fill in the blanks of who God is and how he relates to us. Understanding a systematic presentation of theology helps us understand God better.
And that results in a deeper faith. I do crossword puzzles because I like the challenge, but I also find that it keeps my mind working. The puzzles exercise my brain. But, at the end of the day, I recognize that filling in blanks on a crossword puzzle has no real-life application. On the other hand, there is a real-life application for knowing and understand God and how he relates to this world. As we understand God more, we also come to know how complex and wonderful he is, and that leads us to a great appreciation of who he is, and knowing who God is moves us also to trust him more.