The Fearful Web, or On Being Upheld

As a child I was fascinated by spiders’ webs. Laced by dew drops in the early morning, shimmering pearls in expanding hexagons, each line bending with liquid weight. Their invisible stretching between branch and blade and trunk and branch, suspending and upholding an eternally hungry thing.

 I still love to tickle a corner of a web with a wisp of grass, to watch the pause, bounce, spring of the spider towards the invasion, whether for defense or for dinner she does not know. I am delighted to discover webs across a trail in the morning, evidence that I am the first, today, to explore the mountain. And I am still terrified to discover a web face-first at night. The worst.

My theology is something like a spider’s web, tied between here and there and here again. It’s stretched taught between presuppositions, scripture passages, logical claims and personal experience, and the teaching of various church leaders. The thread of my understanding layers and builds and ties and connects, until I find myself systematically placing everything onto the web to see whether or not it fits. If so, wrap it up neatly. If not, cut it loose.

But here’s the problem. Seminary has big bugs. Maybe birds. And sometimes boys with sticks. The webs that we come in with cannot hold up to it all. Things begin to break. And that, as any spider will tell you, is utterly terrifying. When I am challenged, whether in class or in book or in conversation, I quickly grow afraid that any single invasion might bring the whole web down.

But here is the single critical difference between the spider’s web and my own: the spider is upheld by his threads. If one, two, three are cut, the spider falls, and at best, starts over (at worst is broken by the fall). But my theological web does not hold me up. My web extends, tying everything together from one place to another according to my understanding. But my understanding cannot bear my own weight, much less the weight of the right knowledge of God and of His salvation.*

What then bears my weight, and the weight of the world? What can free the Christian to listen carefully, to think critically and in humility, to ask the hard questions that might require a lot of putting-back-together later?

Jesus. Jesus holds me up. Jesus, the person, the man. God the Son, and what He has done. There is security in Him beyond understanding, beyond philosophical uprooting or theological exploration. The web does not hold me up; He does. This is the difference between a web in the air and a web on the ground- from one you can fall, from the other you can’t. And that is very good news, especially when you remember it again, unexpectedly, in the middle of the lingering snow.

I’d welcome your prayers for trust, and humble studies while I’m here.

* Proverbs 3.5

PS- To put it another way- instead of a web, held up by so many taut, unwavering lines, I find myself on a map again. Perhaps the landscape is not what I though- or at least I have the freedom to reassess it. But the center is unchanged, the cabin in the center of it all, the shelter from the storm. The trails may need to be erased and redrawn- perhaps some will be overgrown and some blazed anew. But home is still home, is still home. To fall on Jesus is the hope of the theologian, the seminarian, the pastor. He is the center, the spider who weaves the glorious web- the one who upholds all things by His word alone.

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