Thirsting for God
“What I really need is to get clear about what I am to do not what I must know, except insofar as knowledge must precede every act. What matters is to find my purpose, to see what it really is that God wills that I shall do; the crucial thing is to find a truth that is truth for me to find the idea for which I am willing to live and die. Of what use would it be to me to discover a so-called objective truth, to work through the philosophical systems so that I could, if asked, make critical judgments about them, could point out the fallacies in each system; of what use would it be to me to be able to develop a theory of the state, getting details from various sources and combining them into a whole, and constructing a world I did not live in but merely held up for others to see; of what use would it be to me to be able to formulate the meaning of Christianity, to be able to explain many specific points—if it had no deeper meaning for me and for my life? And the better I was at it, the more I saw others appropriate the creations of my mind, the more tragic my situation would be, not unlike that of parents who in their poverty are forced to send their children out into the world and turn them over to the care of others. Of what use would it be to me for truth to stand before me, cold and naked, not caring whether or not I acknowledged it, making me uneasy rather than trustingly receptive. I certainly do not deny that I still accept an imperative of knowledge and that through it men may be influenced, but then it must come alive in me, and this is what I now recognize as the most important of all. This is what my soul thirsts for as the African deserts thirst for water This is what is lacking, and this is why I am like a man who has collected furniture, rented an apartment, but as yet has not found the beloved to share life’s ups and downs with him.”
I don’t normally condone Kierkegaardian theology. Not that he’s all bad, but when you read him without a filter or follow some of his thoughts to their conclusions he can certainly be troublesome. But the above quote is one of a few of his that I have in my archive to which I refer from time to time as an encouragement to keep my head on straight, focus on the right things and most importantly to live the faith that I publicly profess, teach and preach. I read and study a lot. I preach, teach and disciple a lot. I take in a lot of biblical and theological information and deliver most of it to others on a regular basis in various settings. As I do this, there arises the grave possibility that I am doing what Kierkegaard warns us about in the above quotation: seeing truth, finding truth, holding up truth, but all the while not allowing that very truth to penetrate into my soul, or to allow it to sink deeply within me. In this way becoming a spectator, and worse a hypocrite, rather than a true disciple of Christ.
Sadly, many of us do exactly what Kierkegaard warns us about – we construct something that we hold up for others to see, but which we are not ourselves. We create what we can call ‘public convictions,’ to borrow a category from John Ortberg. Public convictions are things that I want other people to think I believe even though I really may not believe them myself. In Matthew 2:8, Herod demonstrates a public conviction. He tells the wise men that they should, “Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” What a bogus statement! A bold-faced lie! He didn’t want to go and worship Jesus, he wanted to kill him so that the perceived threat to his crown would be removed. We all think we would never be so bold as to pull this kind of political move, to lie so overtly but in essence, we all do it all the time. Being part of a faith community, the church increases the temptation for us to pretend to believe what we really don’t. Being part of the church increases the temptation for us to try to convince people that we ‘believe’ certain things when in actual fact we do not. Being part of a church tempts us to be drawn more to the culture or to the social relationships within than to Christ. Being part of the church increases the temptation to simply maintain a Christian image, rather than actively nurturing a vibrant relationship with God. Being part of a church entices us to simply “confess with our mouths” the kinds of Biblical truths that we should be making personal. We end up with public convictions that are miles away from the reality of our inner life. In short we end up living a lie.
Kierkegaard reminds us that public convictions are never to be tolerated within us, or within the church. He also reminds us of what should be our attitude, what should be our soul/sole desire, what should consume us in our day-to-day prodding through life: to gain knowledge of God (this is always the first step, the ascertaining of Christian knowledge), and as we do this we need also to beg the Lord to move us beyond the mere accumulation of the knowledge of God and theology so that it “come[s] alive in me.” We must pray that this becomes our consistent desire and the most important of our pursuits, so much so that our “soul thirsts for [it] as the African deserts thirst for water.” We must abandon the public convictions we all project and ask the Lord to develop a real and vulnerable thirst for him.
Soli Deo Gloria