A seemingly ordinary couple, but there is something extraordinary about them. They both belong to two different realms: natural sciences and theology. The guests of the ‘Faces of Reformation’ series were Tamás Kodácsy and his wife, Eszter Kodácsy-Simon.
Can a broken and repaired mug be a sign of grace? Indeed, it can, as revealed by Reformed pastor Tamás Kodácsy, founder of the Eco-Congregation Movement, and his wife, Eszter Kodácsy-Simon, Lutheran theologian and lecturer, at the second event of the programme series called ‘Faces of Reformation,’ held in Premier KultCafé in Budapest. The couple was interviewed by Ministerial Commissioner Károly Hafenscher and Gábor Gundel Takács, ambassador of the Year of Reformation.
A seemingly ordinary couple, but there is something extraordinary about them. They are raising three children in love and faith in God. Each of them is deeply familiar with two distinct disciplines. Eszter originally graduated as a teacher of Mathemathics and Physics, and Tamás is a programmer-mathematician, but God also had other plans for them. Today, they are both doctors of theology, and active servants in their respective denominations. Eszter is Head of the Department of Religious Education at the Lutheran Theological University, while Tamás works as a Reformed pastor in Dunakeszi. The participants discussed, among other issues, whether there are any links connecting science and religious faith; how children are raised in an inter-denominational marriage; whether there are conflicts arising out of religious differences, and if yes, how these are resolved.
Not afraid of confrontation
The audience caught glimpses of the everyday life of the Kodácsy family, while at the same time a series of significant issues were raised, including in vitro fertilisation (IVF), differences between the Lutheran and Reformed Lord’s Supper and the freedom of conscience. A member of the audience asked the question how Tamás was able to reconcile his scientific work with his pastoral service. Tamás replied with a quote from John Polkinghorne, who is an Anglican physicist and theologian: “It is not the case that on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays I am a physicist, and for the rest of the week, a theologian. I am both at the same time.” Besides his work as a pastor, Tamás is also a software developer. Thus he lives in two different contexts, but it is the same world that he is trying to discover.
His wife, Eszter, mentioned that prior to their wedding, she attended a lecture by Professor Ferenc Szűcs, the theme of which was marriage. She paid close attention to find out what advice she might get. The main message of the speaker, who had been married for forty years at that time, was that his marriage was exclusively the result of God’s grace. She was really struck by this: she had planned to make all kinds of efforts, which would all be in vain if it really was about nothing but grace. She went on to say: “We are grateful that we can also experience this grace in our everyday lives, and this is the most important message that we would like to spread during the year commemorating the Reformation. We should have the courage to rely on our gracious God. God does indeed love us, whatever we are”. Tamás jokingly added that having a shared Google calendar was also very helpful in their cooperation and sharing of tasks. Religious differences do not make them drift apart; on the contrary, they provide them with opportunities to learn from each other, and they do learn from each other. Tamás recalled the first time he decided to take the Lord’s Supper in a Lutheran church. He was so much taken aback by the liturgical differences that he ended up quietly stepping out of the queue. Back at home, he flicked through Calvin’s Institutio and also looked at the Leuenberg Agreement, which resolved the differences that had existed between the Lutheran and Reformed understanding of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper and the Gospel at the age of Reformation. He felt unsettled by the question whether “the finite could grasp the infinite.” He realised, however, that the question was flawed. It should be put differently: Can the infinite contain the finite? He understood that it was not him that wanted to grasp the infinite, and this gave him a sense of liberation. Tamás pointed out to the audience that it is important to have an appropriate understanding of the concepts regarding our spirituality. He went on to say that he and his wife are intrigued by discovering their spouse’s theology, and have a lot of discussions about them.
The key to understanding
They do not stop a discussion even when they reach a phase of conflict, they revealed. Instead, they think it over together. “This attitude is a key element of Protestant thinking,” said Eszter. The way they speak suggests that they feel: a real family does not sweep problematic issues under the rug. They have an open and honest relationship, in which both of them are constantly evolving, achieving, increasing harmony.
Eszter shared a story about a time she was away in Ireland, attending a scientific conference, and she really missed her husband. Before leaving for home, she spotted a coffee mug with the caption: “Remember, as far as everyone knows, we are a nice, normal family.” She decided to buy the mug, and Tamás really liked the present. He drank from it the next day, and the day after that. One day later, however, they started arguing about something, and in the heat of the fight, Eszter smashed the mug.
She sat down at her desk to work, but a few minutes later Tamás showed up, holding up the mug, which he had fixed. “This is what marriage is about: we break things and fix it, but the fact that our relatonship survives and is dominated by love is only the result of God’s grace. It is the result of God’s grace that makes us motivated and capable of repairing our broken “mugs” and doesn’t let us fall into passivity and indifference.” For them, the key to understanding is talking to each other, discovering the other’s point of view at all events.
They both believe in the importance of the freedom of conscience. As far as they are concerned, this is one of the greatest messages of Reformation. It is a well-known fact that at the Duet of Worms, when Martin Luther was confronted with his works and asked to recant them, after a day of consideration, he replied that he could not recant his works because of his conscience. He had re-examined his writings but could see no reason to change his tenets and views. His actual words were the following: “Unless I am convicted of error by the testimony of Scripture or by manifest reasoning, I stand convicted by the Scriptures to which I have appealed, and my conscience is taken captive by God's word, I cannot and will not recant anything, for to act against our conscience is neither safe for us, nor open to us.” As Tamás put it, Luther got fed up with the fact that “people had been treated as idiots with absolution being turned into a mere business transaction.” This kind of Protestant courage can be an example for us today. “Asking questions without compromise is a truly Protestant quality,” the Reformed pastor pointed out. In his view, asking questions is at the core of our existence. “But do we have the courage to ask questions without compromises?”
Was Jesus born before or after dinosaurs?
Their children – aged 6, 9, and 10 – are indeed keen on asking questions, and Tamás and Eszter do their best to help them to the best of their knowledge and according to their faith to find their own answers. Eszter shared the story of how one of their sons, when he was 4 years old and had heard about the creation of the world and the birth of Jesus Christ, was preoccupied with finding the place of dinosaurs on the timeline. “If Jesus is the Son of God, but also the child of Mary, was He born before or after dinosaurs?” he asked, once during a morning rush and it was not easy to find an appropriate answer. Eszter suddenly tried to explain on the basis of the Nicene Creed that Jesus had been born “before all ages”, although she was not sure her son would get what that meant. But he reassured her: “Mom, I think I see what you are trying to say.” Their children teach them constantly, often providing the inspiration for the upcoming Sunday sermon. They acknowledge the fact that all they can do is observe how their children’s way of thinking evolves. “Still, it is good to see how their faith is developing,” they said. Gábor Gundel Takács brought up the fact that parents must face the problem of today’s youth living their lives on Facebook. Eszter reacted by stating that if they tried to prevent their children from using modern technological devices, they would not succeed because of the appeal of the forbidden fruit. It is this world that Jesus came to redeem, and it is their duty as parents to teach their children how to live in this created world. They are trying to achieve that. They have for example their own vegetable patch, where their sons and daughter can see how tomatoes grow and how they can be preserved in cans for winter and they not only order it from the internet. Similarly, they can observe everything first-hand in nature. “We teach them that the real world is not virtual, but the one we experience in person. We have our own history, which is not created by the media, but by ourselves.”
Having your own heritage
Recently, their children were looking at old family snapshots, and they discovered two very similar photos, one of their paternal, and another of their maternal great-grandfather. Both of them used to be Hussars, and they were photographed on a horse. “All the external noise drowns out what they learn at home. That is why we need to aid this generation in learning about God and themselves, so that they can see that life is to be lived in the family and in communities. This is what can provide them with the strength and values of reality.” They are both convinced that their children’s questions are always better than the answers they as parents can provide. Still, they need to be taught how to ask questions, because that is an important part of the search for God. They, for example, frequently get the question whether they believe the Bible or science. The question is a loaded one, based on the fallacy that the two areas are in contradiction with each other, while in reality there are many links connecting the two. “We do not come up with ready-made answers, but instead, ask our own questions with our conscience permeated by the Word, which can lead to new realisations,” explained Eszter, thus revealing that they constantly learn new things in the community of their family.
The Bible wakes you up
The Kodácsy couple was also interviewed by Parókia Portal, and they revealed how they reacted to being chosen to be the faces of Reformation 500.
Eszter: I’m not sure whose idea it was, but we were very much taken by surprise. Then we thought about the theological aspects of the request and in the end, decided we would be honoured to say yes.
Tamás: Actually, we changed our minds a couple of times and said we would not do it. We thought we were not suited to the task, because it involves a kind of celebrity status, which we did not want to undertake. On the other hand, we are both theologians, and we felt that if we could contribute to the commemoration of the Reformation in some way, we would do it gladly.
– What is the most important message you wish to convey?
Eszter: First and foremost, we would like to draw people’s attention to the values of Reformation
– And which of these values did you find significant?
Eszter: The freedom of conscience, for example. Luther was quite ahead of his time when he built his decision on his conscience. At that time, around 1517-1520, this was a radically new idea, and I feel this has the same power of novelty today and it should be treated as the most crucial value even in our days. We must constantly learn to listen to the voice of our conscience in order not to lose our lives, and also to be able to pay attention and act accordingly to it.
Tamás: For me, the courage of the Reformation is of great significance. The courage to ask questions, to voice opinions, to examine issues. It is also important for us to have the courage of faith even amid desperate and hopeless circumstances. What fills us with hope is the fact that we can live by the grace of God, we can have a future and we can look ahead. In the 16th century Luther rediscovered and shed light on something very important: grace. Relying on grace is an interesting issue even today. It was not something he merely stated on the 31st of October 1517, but something he had discovered during his long struggle while reading Paul’s Letter to the Romans. What happened on the days around the 31st of October was basically that he got fed up with being treated like an idiot. This is the meaning of the 95 theses for me today, and it matters a lot, because it is often the case that we need to inspect the things we receive and are told, to decide whether they have anything to do with real life and how we are treated.
– If I told someone who knows nothing about God and the Bible to rely on grace, they would laugh in my face, as today’s world is all about the self and self-fulfilment. People are willing to “bravely” destroy everything that stands in their way. What we mean by bravery or courage, of course, is a matter of interpretation. Do you think the world is open to your way of thinking?
Tamás: If we look at it as a virtue that an individual claims to have, claiming to be brave, than it is really not the same as what I’m talking about. The courage of the Reformation is not a virtue. It is a way of saying yes to life while being aware of the fact that whatever I do, the end result is not guaranteed; therefore, I rely on grace. When we interact with people, it is not certain methodologies or communication tricks that we should rely on; instead, we should show the reality that despite what we see around us, God does indeed love us. God is gracious, which is a very important message.
Eszter: The idea of grace cannot be spread without explanation. If I simply started telling people in the street that they should rely on God’s grace, yes, they would probably laugh in my face – not because grace is not important for them rather because they don’t know what grace really is and what it means especially in their lives. Luther says that it is children who can really experience grace, because they do not want to take their lives into their own hands, they simply rely on God. It would be important for us adults to be able to let go of things, and accept that the main issues and result of our life are not dependent on our personal performance, but on the fact that God loves us.
– Tamás, you are the founder of the Eco-Congregation Movement. What exactly is eco-theology?
Tamás: Eco-theology is a contextual theology in which our theological ideas and claims are put forward in a way that takes into consideration the current ecological crisis. And here grace comes into the picture more visibly, since regarding the state of our planet, we have nothing else to rely on, but God’s grace.
– What is Christian people’s duty when it comes to climate change? Clearly, they need to protect the Earth, but the Bible says that the world will be destroyed by fire eventually.
Eszter: The question is whether the plan of destruction is God’s or ours. It is definitely not our duty to accelerate the process of destruction, but to preserve the Earth.
Tamás: We should not set the world on fire! God created this world as good, not as evil. The narratives on the first pages of the Bible tell us that regarding our world it is our duty to till it and keep it, and we should not exploit it senselessly. This is not an easy task, and we have forgotten about it. Perhaps it had already been forgotten in Luther’s era. But as the Reformers pointed out: we live in this world, we have a duty now, we need to act now.
– Reformation had tremendous implications for secular life as well, generating major changes that are still felt today. Nowadays, however, Protestants do not seem to have a great influence on public thinking or society. What could be missing?
Eszter: The courage which Tamás has mentioned is a significant element, but I would say that knowledge and willingness are just as important. Besides the courage to ask questions, it is a basic issue whether we have enough knowledge and if we are still willing to ask these questions, or we have become complacent in the world that we are creating around us or others are providing for us.
Tamás: More and more often we live in a virtual world, created by ourselves with our own concepts and ideas, our “bytes”. This can also be experienced within the church. According to Emil Brunner, we are constantly tempted to imagine a world beyond the created world, as did the gnosis. I believe we need the Reformation to highlight that the world Jesus redeemed is the same world that God had created. We do not need to create a different world, but live in the world that God created for us.
– In order to live in a way that pleases God, we need to say yes to Jesus Christ. Do you think the fact that we keep talking about this during the 500th anniversary of Reformation can inspire some feeling in people’s hearts? How can people be woken up?
Eszter: I believe that people are very much open to th. In Lutheran religious education we teach religion through the questions of life, which means that all our “life questions” are connected to the Bible.
– So is this a practical approach?
Eszter: Yes, it is. It is not that we have ready-made answers. The Bible can become deeply intriguing if one is looking for its message. That is why it is crucial to find the biblical message.
Tamás: One needs to start reading the Bible. There is no need for anyone to wake others up. The Bible does that to people.
I want a child
One of the topics that came up during the event was in vitro fertilisation, which has been a hotly debated issue in Hungary for the past few months. Do infertile couples have the right to meddle in God’s order? In Hungary, around 150 thousand couples are affected by this problem; it is present in the case of every fifth or sixth childless couple who are married or live in a domestic partnership. Serious questions arise, like: Where does life begin? The answer is obvious: at conception. Describing his stance on the issue, Tamás began by saying that the wish to have offspring is a burning desire, a fundamental and natural feeling, which is reflected in the Bible several times regarding salvation history. He had recently read that a woman, who had a child after four years of infertility treatment, said: “Nobody dies of being infertile. But you do wish you were dead.”
They both emphasized that while they do not question the IVF programme, they believe it should only be used responsibly. In Eszter’s view, meddling in God’s order could also come up as an issue in the case of a brain surgery or blood transfusion. We should use everything around us to make it a blessing. Therefore if somebody decides to participate in in vitro fertilisation, they should consciously and thoroughly consider the relevant ethical questions. This method, just like everything else, should be used responsibly, as a gift from God. It should not be treated as a mere technical issue, but rather as a cultural and spiritual one.
With a personal reflection, Tamás also mentioned that the idea of letting go and relying on God’s grace could be helpful in this question as well. Both Tamás and Eszter underlined that the starting point should be living responsibly, but on the other hand, we must not react to infertility by saying: “It does not matter that you want children, the divine providence has other plans for you, and you must accept that.” Those involved in such a situation must fight this battle internally and responsibly. And at the end of such a battle of conscience, many people become resigned to the fact that this is the fate God provided for them, and can be happy that way. Others make all sacrifices necessary in order to have a child, and this is also a justifiable attitude. What matters is that people should not be told by others what is appropriate – and even more importantly, people participating in the IVF programme should not be judged by outsiders –; instead, everybody should come up with their own answers on the basis of their conscience. Incidentally, this internal struggle, the insistence on relying on one’s conscience and God’s grace, represents an attitude that is a gift of Reformation, an attitude we can also adopt today.
Written by Hajnalka Cseke
Photos by Tamás Füle
Originally published on the parokia.hu