Musing About…The Theological Bookcase

It was supposed to be a simple project; I mean, how hard can it be to put together a four-shelf bookcase? A bookcase…a top, a bottom, two sides, a back and three shelves. It shouldn’t take more than thirty minutes, right? Well, that’s what I thought until I opened the box and poured out the contents, and they kept coming out. I thought maybe I picked up the wrong box, because surely this heap of sections of pasteboard and bags of hardware was for some monstrosity that I was ill- prepared to construct. But I decided that maybe the task just looked larger than life, so I began searching for that special piece of paper—the assembly guide. I about panicked as I scrounged the boards, looking for that mystical and elusive set of instructions. That precious piece of paper was missing, which left me with a mound of what seemed to be useless pieces of wood. I was about to finally accept this as a defeat for this weekend home warrior and put the contents back in the box and return it to the store, when I decided to try one more thing—lay the pieces out in some sort of an arrangement. This endeavor would take the full breadth and span of the room, but I organized each piece according to its size. That’s when I experienced one of those “Ah- Hah” moments—I could see that there were two long pieces, which had to mean that those were the two sides. Then, as I gazed over the remaining pieces, I discovered that five pieces looked very similar, with three of them being identical. It now occurred to me that these were the top, bottom and shelves. With great patience and inspection, I began to envision how each of the pieces could fit together and form my now not-so-elusive piece of furniture. Biting my tongue a bit, I dove into constructing and assembling the bookcase, piece-by-piece, reasoning out how each section would fit together with the next. There were some strange-looking pieces of hardware, but I had used similar ones before, so I was sure they would function much the same. As the scattered pieces were fitted and fastened together, there were moments where I had to do a bit of deconstructing, so that I could rearrange a certain piece or add in another component that I had overlooked. Finally, there was one section left and a whole slew of small finishing nails and it was just the back, a mere cosmetic component at best. I became quite proud of my accomplishment as a fine example of my sheer determination not to give up. I set the bookcase up and stood back to marvel at my achievement. It was quite a sight to behold. I though I might sell tickets, so that others could gaze upon its beauty. Then it happened—it began to lean a bit. Not too much a first, just enough for me to notice. I cocked my head to one side in a moment of puzzlement. Then the bookcase began to list a bit more and started uttering a frightful creaking noise. My moment of euphoria quickly turned to terror as I began envisioning pieces of pasteboard splintering and morphing into a conglomeration of truly useless pieces of wood. Dashing forward, I grabbed the leaning tower of bookcase just before it completely fell and broke into unusable fragments. Then it occurred to me. I still needed to affix the back to the case. That one piece of laminated cardboard would give the much-need strength and stability to all the other pieces. After applying the final section, the bookcase was complete and had the structural integrity to support the many books and knick-knacks for which it was purchased.

This experience provided me a moment of serendipity on a spiritual level, too. I began to see that constructing this bookcase was like trying to figure out a theological problem sometimes. There are moments when we are presented with a challenge to which we would prefer to look to someone else for the advice on how to respond, but there is no one to ask. So, we have to start thinking through all the possibilities and reasoning out what would work. Sometimes we draw from our experiences to help us construct our response. Then, when we think we have the problem solved, we need to ensure that it is backed up well; in other words, does the answer have a biblical backing to give it strength and integrity? Without that crucial element, the solution is doomed to failure.

Maybe you are wondering about my bookcase. After all, it was several years ago when I submersed myself into solving that daunting construction project. Well, I can say that after many years of continual use, the bookcase is still just as strong as the day I assembled it. So are all those theological conundrums with which I have wrestled over the years.