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Mar112015

How I Fell Down the Rabbit Hole

Iliyas Oomit (pseudonym used for sensitive access security reasons)  |  NTS Class of 2016
Master of Divinity Degree Program

It was the summer of 2007 when I found myself graduating from high school and uncertain about my future. At the time, the only desires I had were to pursue a Christian education and take up full-time ministry. Since neither of these dreams seemed realistic then, I was encouraged by my parents to get a Bachelor’s degree in any academic discipline of even remote interest. Little did I know that my diploma in Russian/English translation along with other significant changes in life would bring me in time to the other end of the world to pursue a degree in pastoral ministry. God’s ways are unpredictable, and like Dorothy, even today I sometimes need someone to remind me that I am not in Central Asia anymore!

I came to NTS a young man excited but anxious about what Christian academics would do to my faith. My anxiety flowed from a fear that the simplicity of God’s Christ-centered story would be challenged by the complexities of fervent theological and philosophical discussions that awaited me at NTS. However, since my rabbit hole was discovered, the falling was imminent.

It has been two years since I came to seminary, and I find myself even more anxious and excited about my seminarian experiences than when I arrived. Since seminary is no ordinary place, time here is counted not in seconds or minutes, but in sleepless nights, endless cups of coffee, and many small attempts to discover in greater depth the simple message of God’s story that shines through the complexities of theological and philosophical discussions. 

What is complex in a simple message repeatedly observed, experienced and passed on from generation to generation? Upon graduation, I expected my theology to be neatly identified with the purpose of representing my faith in a coherent, confident, and undisputed manner. As I embarked on my journey of academic discovery, I explored the Gospel’s message in a place that turned out to be wondrous, mysterious, and hurting.  While evil seems to push the world around like a bully in a schoolyard, I have come to ask, “How much reality can I bear and remain true to my dearest convictions that God loves this world to bits?”

In his article “Bearing Reality: A Christian Meditation,” Stanley Hauerwas reflects on the pain that we inflict on one another, and reminds us of tensions between our faith and the world’s brokenness:

“Indeed we forget or deny we are creatures subject to the illusions we create to ensure our significance. As a result, we lose the necessities that create imaginative alternatives that make it possible for us to live without denying the difficult task of acknowledging our and our neighbor’shumanity.”

I became seminarian because I wanted to prepare to engage the broken reality of this world using a carefully packed suitcase of ready answers. Somewhere inside, I hoped to become a know-it-all theologian and a cautious practitioner of faith. To my surprise, instead of giving the philosopher’s stone of Christ-like living, NTS offered me courage. Without this courage, it is almost unthinkable to face the questions to which we do not know the answers. The closer I approach my graduation, the more I refuse to be a cautious Christian who avoids dealing with uncomfortable challenges of reality that remind us of our utter fallenness. The complexity of Christian knowledge must not silence the plain and most profound stimulus of faith, “Jesus loves me – the sinner of sinners, the wounded soldier on the battlefield of life.”

Now having fallen halfway through the rabbit hole, I look to the future with something to share with those few of you who indulged me by reading my clumsy reflections. When we part with this sleep-deprived, intellectually exciting and somehow pleasantly torturous period of our lives, our heads will be swollen with theological questions and hearts inflamed with the burdens of this world’s pains. Seminary is supposed to overwhelm us with the depth of the Christian experience, making us courageous enough to stand up to the evil “bully” through the redemptive alternative of living hopefully in the midst of painful and violent contradictions! Therefore, let us bear this gift of knowledge not in sealed and padded boxes of our carefully crafted insights concerning faith, but let us put all precisely defined academic experiences through the trial of faithful daily living as God’s beloved children.

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