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Mark Naylor M.Th.

Theology and photography

It was while Karen and I were visiting the Bridal Veil waterfall outside of Hope that we discovered that we had neglected to bring our camera. For some people I know, this would have been reason to travel the 5 hours back home to get it. However, we have always been apathetic (or just pathetic) photographers and so we shrugged and continued on with the important issue of experiencing the beauty of the falls. We tend to have a skeptical attitude towards cameras. They never seem to capture the beauty and fullness of the experience. The result is only a narrow window, a moment, that was so much more at the time, but now is reduced to a flash of color. It remains a true picture, but a picture that is so much less than the reality of the experience.

This is a metaphor for theology. Theology is a human attempt to describe, systematize and analyze the vast reality of God as he has revealed himself and relates to the world. However true and accurate the description, it will always fall short of the reality, even as a photo fails to capture the fullness that exists in the drama of our lives. Theological descriptions are good, even as photos are good. But they are no substitute to living the moment and experiencing the overwhelming beauty that gives us life.

2 Responses to “Theology and photography”


  • It would be a great exercise to start a discussion of what this particular “living the moment” looks like in daily experience – particularly as it relates to theology. With a photograph I can share with someone something of what I have seen and captured on “photographic media” – something that another may not have seen but can share in because of my having recorded it. I am not quite so sceptical of photos, as they help remind me (repeatedly) of what I have already seen and experienced and help me allow others to “live the moment” with me.
    Does this metaphor extend any further into our experience with God? Is “theology” that means by which the community of faith shares with each other our experiences of God? Or is theology more an attempt by us to “study and organize” the vast gallery of photos of Himself that God has already given to us to peruse?
    I guess one cannot push metaphors too far – but I’m just wondering…

  • Hey Loren, Believe it or not I was thinking of you when I mentioned someone who would travel the 5 hours to get their camera :-) I like the way you are stretching the metaphor and I would concur with the positive aspect you have given to the photos, as well as the idea that theology is the means of sharing with each other our experiences of God. The second idea, however, alters the metaphor as the “photos” in my illustration are the snapshots we take of what God has revealed of himself. That is, theology is what we do in response to what God reveals. At the same time we could push it back a step and see the Bible as “photos” given by the prophets / apostles and our perspective (theologizing) of that would then be “photos of photos”. But by now the metaphor is probably getting a bit bogged down with too much complexity to be helpful.

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