Some theological writers are as hard to understand as other creative artists, and what they write is to be appreciated in a similar way to other works of art. Indeed we might be doing a disservice to them and ourselves if our primary purpose in reading them is to "understand" what they write, or understand them through what they write. I'm thinking of those times when reading something, I become aware of its power, its capacity to affect me, that something or other that alerts in me the crucial appreciative quality in the theological reader, and not to be easily dismissed, of being mystified. At one level I do understand what is written, but at a higher (or deeper?) level there is something elusively present in the writing that seems more important than my own cognitive grasp, that evades intellectual control, that gives what is written an authority over my conscience and will and affections. That makes me say Yes, more from intuition and instinct than crtical analysis
Augustine was good at this kind of thing. In Book 1 of the Confessions he tries to tease out by talking out, the relation between his own existence and the Eternal Being of God. He compares his own sense of being time-bound, time limited, dependent on Divine will that he exists at all.
"Because your years do not fail, your years are one Today. How many of our days and days of our fathers have passed during your Today, and have derived from it the measure and condition of their existence? And others too will pass away and from the same source derive the condition of their existence. 'But you are the same', and all tomorrow and hereafter, and indeed all yesterday and further back, you will make a Today, you have made a Today.
If anyone finds your simultaneity beyond his understanding, it is not for me to explain it. Let him be content to say 'What is this?' (Exod. 16:15). So too let him rejoice and delight in finding you who are beyond discovery rather than fail to find you by supposing you to be discoverable"
Confessions (Trans. Henry Chadwick) (Oxford:OUP, 1991), page 8.
This line of thought, (about what some theological writing does to us rather than what we do with it), was triggered by reading a brief passage of Kierkegaard the other day. It bothered me in a positive kind of way. It made sense at a deeper level than seeming straightforwardly reasonable. It isn't the kind of passage with which you agree or disagree; as well try to agree or disagree with a sunset. It is precisely a passage that mystifies, unsettles the conscience, evokes an immediate and appreciative Yes, while also saying "What is this?." Yet though inwardly I assent, not without misgivings that, if Kierkegaard is right, then much else I swallow uncritically about how to live my life in the world is wrong.
The passage itself? Tell you tomorrow :)