How Badly Do We Want to Follow God?
Earlier in the year, I wrote about the absurdity of following God. I wrote about how we sometimes have our concepts of God run up against the wall of lived experience. Circumstance has this unique ability to shatter our conceptions of God, his love and the way in which he puts that love into practice.
This rude awakening can confront and sometimes confuse us as followers of an incarnate faith. As believers in the Incarnation of the Word, we believe that God works in history, and weaves the tapestry of providence into the fabric of our biography.
A conversation with my friend Kamila (readers might remember her from her piece on the loss of Notre Dame Cathedral) brought another difficulty that comes with our affirming the incarnation and living life at the same time.
Many of us might be spared the excruciating agony facing our ideas of what it means to be Christian deconstructed by the rude hand of circumstance (it may be that the “rude hand” might have been God’s). Even so, after conversing with Kamila, I realised that I have long been guilty of another, subtler, temptation.
This is the temptation to presume that simply because God works in history, my earthly pursuits automatically has a thread of divine providence woven into it. I presume that, even as I desire the success of that earthly pursuit, my simultaneous desire to please God in that pursuit is sufficient to not only bless that pursuit, but also to fulfil Jesus’ exhortation to seek the Kingdom of God.
It is here that the topic of my conversation with Kamila becomes relevant. I had borrowed a copy ofThe Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air, written by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.
The first half of that short book touched upon the theme of seeking first the Kingdom of God. As he is wont to do, Kierkegaard blasted all my complacent ideas listed above with just one line:
…it is undeniable that God’s Kingdom can only be sought when it is sought first; the person who does not seek God’s kingdom first does not seek it at all.
There it was, staring at me. For Kierkegaard, I walk a precarious tightrope when I straddle the multiple desires that come with simultaneously pursuing earthy goals and pleasing God in heaven. So thin is the tightrope that the moment an earthly concern overrides my seeking God’s kingdom, I stop seeking the kingdom. Period.
It made me realise the number of times when I became as concerned - if not more concerned - about my bank balance, or success in employment, or the state of my relationships with people, than I did about the pursuit of God’s righeousness. When these climbed the ladder of priorities, I did not simply kill two birds with one stone with my desires. I did not momentarily reprioritise my goals.
For Kierkegaard, I had stopped wanting to seek God’s kingdom. In reprioritising what I desire, I had reoriented myself towards serving Mammon rather God. I had done the very thing that Jesus had warned about, loving one master while hating the other. Only that the master I loved was not God.
At this point, some might say that we can only really follow God if we but give up on this desire-corrupting world and going into in a full blown retreat into the spiritual sphere. The answer to that suggestion is that, well, you cannot freaking do that as an embodied being. Besides, there are many disembodied beings with corrupted desires as well. The Christian tradition calls them fallen angels.
As believers in the Incarnation of the God-Man, we cannot help but immerse ourselves in the affairs of the world, nor can we escape the possibility that our desires will become reprioritised, and that our desire for God’s kingdom will become diluted (ok, extinguished) at certain moments as we become preoccupied with those affairs.
What is needed is a constant examination of where we are at, both in relation to the objects of our pursuits, to the Church and to God’s Kingdom. This moment of examination can be called a deconstruction of our existing priorities and placing ourselves in a new set of desires with the desiring for the Kingdom at the top of them.
With this act of deconstruction must also come a radical act of trust in the plenitude of that Kingdom to weave itself into the fabric of our earthly pursuits.
If Kierkegaard is correct, being a follower of Christ demands no less.
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