Henri Nouwen on the nature of Theological Formation

I recently found a quote from Henri Nouwen on the nature of theological formation that resonated with me. He said, “Theological formation is the gradual and often painful discovery of God’s incomprehensibility. You can be competent in many things, but you cannot be competent in God.” When I read these words I felt a huge sense of relief, having just come out of a very difficult, even an incomplete semester. I think that in general there are two types of people that leave Divinity Schools and Seminaries: the first are those that have a sense of satisfaction, thinking that they know the answers and are prepared to go and tell these answers to those that have never had the benefit of the formal training that they have gone through. I do not count myself among this number, and no matter how much theological schooling I went through I would not. In fact, the more I learn the less I feel I know – it is, quite honestly, unnerving. This is why I felt Nouwen’s quote so comforting, and furthermore why I so love Wittgenstein – at the end of the day, all that we should say with any degree of certainty about God and God’s nature (and recently with natural catastrophes) is as little as possible because truly, we can know that we know something *is* but that doesn’t mean we should talk about it ad nauseum – it can actually do harm.
The second group of people, the group which I feel a part of, is those who are in awe of God, and who are aware of a huge number of questions that exist among the people whom ministry will be done with.
Somewhere in this very painful process of my incorrect notions of what God was, I have gained some very important insights – about my own humanity and nature; what is reasonable to expect to do in one lifetime, forgiveness for myself and others, and so on. Like any heartbreak, looking back, I wouldn’t trade it for anything because of who I have become because of it.


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