Growing up I had a modest collection of play, plastic dinosaurs. They were my favorite childhood toys! But unlike the dinos of today, mine where drab colors of solid gray, blue and green. No technicolor Triceratops in my collection! My favorite was the long-necked, long-tailed Brontosaurus, the Thunder Lizard. I imagined him as tall as The Empire State Building, massive and tremendous reaching over the tops of every tree, yet gentle. You can only imagine my dismay when I learned Brontosaurus was a supposed mistake! How deflating! Had all my dino dreams been fantastical myths? What’s a 7-year-old to do?
But one thing that hasn’t changed, at least to my knowledge, is the terrifying ferocity habitually depicting Tyrannosaurus Rex, King Tyrant Lizard. With a name like that and the ability to outrun a human, a bone-chilling reputation is certainly in order. But with such fierce, serrated teeth, crushing bone with a bite force of 12,000 pounds, what the heck is with those tiny little appendages for arms? I bet he got bullied a lot!
It’s like being a T-Rex. BIG head, little tiny arms!
Eggs over easy, bacon and crisp hash browns were set before us as the waitress poured another mug of piping hot coffee. The years of separation energized our conversation. Talking through breakfast, we had years of catching up to do. Our similar passions emerged, and a sense of fellowship wafted over the table along with the smell of bacon. Midway through the meal, we began to talk practical theology. We both work in contexts demanding a tangible transfer of valuable theological doctrine into practical, human assistance. We critiqued the failure of some who got lost in the translation from theology to praxis. Somewhere between a hash brown bite and a slurp of coffee, I blurted out, “It’s like being a T-Rex. BIG head, little tiny arms!” as I pulled my elbows into my torso, flailing my hands as wildly as I could. We both laughed, shrugged it off with a smile and then, in the next breath moaned in unison as it struck both of us as being horrifyingly accurate.
I’ve been thinking about this conversation for weeks now, haunted by the probability of it all in my own life. How big is my head compared to my arms? Am I bloated with theology, information, doctrine, knowledge and opinion while my arms - my compassionate reach towards others - have atrophied? Am I more concerned with winning arguments than influencing people? If you’re a T-Rex you’re unaware of the silliness of your puny arms, you just roar louder to overcome the deficiency.
We cannot, as people who claim to follow Jesus, be so bloated with theological study, concepts, and doctrine that our heads swell out of proportion to our arms. I know a few people whom I would categorize as such. Always looking to correct and debate, but rarely serving others.
You can be just as guilty of irrelevant pomposity being atheistic as you can a Jesus freak.
And if you’re not a Christian, the same applies to you, too! Whatever “religion” you follow, how does your head compare to your arms? You can be just as guilty of irrelevant pomposity being atheistic as you can a Jesus freak. Are you terrifying to be around, able to crush others with the teeth of your doctrinal prowess while your arms flail uselessly at your side? You know, people notice these things.
Ideally, a person filled with Christian theology should have amazingly long arms. God does! The Bible says God, being all-knowing and all-powerful, reaches out while we are in our greatest need. His arms span time and space. But generally, we are head strong and arm short.
Since my friend and I sat there for that infinitesimal moment in eternity, pondering what I’d just blurted out, I wonder, “How long are my arms?” How far do I reach beyond myself towards others? Am I unaware that my knowledge, training, and education are more about me than about others? Am I terrifying to be around? So, to bring some form of intentional understanding, I put together a few questions I’m going to ask myself periodically. A sort of litmus test for T-Rex-itus.
1. Does my theology fuel my serving or do I use it to devour others?
2. How gracious am I when speaking to someone with whom I disagree?
3. What makes me happier, winning a theological argument or lifting up the lost and hurting?
4. Do I always need to be right, pedantically?
5. How many friends and acquaintances do I have who know my theological position, disagree with me, yet choose to call me their friend? Jesus was a friend of sinners!
Jesus calls us to speak to the truth in love. You have to have both.
And, so that we know, the inverse of this can be also true. Serving others in the Name of Jesus in all humanistic tenderness without theological underpinnings to set people free from the true quagmire of sin, can be just as damning. You can’t be biblically literate and still believe people become angels when they die or everyone goes to heaven. Jesus calls us to speak to the truth in love. You have to have both.
God, in all his infinite knowledge and power, demonstrated for us just how long His arms are by sending His Son to die in our place, giving the opportunity for repentance and restoration. Shouldn’t our arms be long, too?