During my M.Div. degree, I started encountering a lot of words I’d barely heard before. Liminal. Exegesis. Qoheleth. Before long, I was even using some of these—mostly correctly—myself. Like most other fields of study, theology has its own vocabulary and studying theology is, in part, learning a new vocabulary.
One of my favourite words I began to use was hermeneutic. A hermeneutic is a method or theory of interpretation, often in relationship to how we read the Bible. I like learning about the different frameworks of interpretation that people have brought to their reading of the Bible over the history of the church and how those frameworks have influenced their understanding and practice of the Christian faith. Even if we don’t always acknowledge it, everyone has a hermeneutic, and sometimes more than just one.
One of the most common ways in which I’ve heard about hermeneutics is in the phrase “hermeneutic of suspicion.” The basic idea here, developed by philosophers such as Paul Ricouer, is that we should read texts, and more broadly encounter the world, with skepticism and be aware of the power relations and unseen aspects that have shaped them. It can be a helpful idea and I have read my fair share of texts, including Scripture, in this fashion.
This summer, however, I came across a new phrase from the scholar Susan Felch: a hermeneutic of delight. God intends for all of creation to share in the delight God takes in God’s work. The reason Creation has a seventh day isn’t because God was tired and a needed rest but because the culmination of Creation is God taking delight in what God has done. We should interpret our faith through the lens of this same delight. Suspicion and doubt have their place, Felch argues, but they can prevent us from fully entering the world, flattening our moral landscape and obscuring our view into the diversity of human experience.
It doesn’t always feel like there’s a lot of delight in the world these days. Even leaving aside all the major challenges we confront as human society, the grind of daily living can sometimes make delight seem an afterthought. It can be difficult to cultivate the attention to others and detachment from our own concerns that are necessary for delight. The critical method and suspicion we are taught to bring to the classroom—while immensely valuable for our learning—can also tend to push delight to the side. As a result, we miss out on some of the wonders of what God has done and is doing.
A hermeneutic of delight draws us back to God’s creative love which leads us to deeper relationship with one another and to God’s delight. As we begin a new year, I hope that you will be able to find time to approach the world looking for delight—for delight in our studies, in this community, and in the good Creation in which we live.
This message was written by Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community.