A man has to undergo a long and fierce inner struggle before he learns fully to master himself, and to direct his whole love towards God. When a man relies on himself, he often comes to rely on human consolations
– Thomas a Kempis (Medieval monk, 1380 – 1471)
This struggle to master ourselves is a journey that few care to endeavor. It’s hard! You have to get rid of anger, greed, contempt, desires, pride, and so much more. These are useful tools in this world! And then you have to focus on God and submit to his will. What!? That’s crazy talk!
There has to be an easier way, right? Isn’t there a DVD set where we can knock this out in a weekend? How about a seminar or something? Can’t we just do it by ourselves? These are the questions we ask, and answer. We do find and create alternate paths. We toss God to the side, or relegate him to wedding services and funerals, and focus on what we think is “the way.”
Our way includes such modern thinking as, we just need to love more, we need to be more accepting, we need to embrace diversity, we need to celebrate life and just be. In other words, we need to free ourselves from the God of religion to do what “we” want.
We want freedom not religion.
If we think that “human” will, by itself, can overcome the garbage that’s in us, we’re dreaming. It’s like a heroine addict saying, “no, no, no, I got this, I’m fine.” We don’t like to admit we can’t do it. It wounds our pride. Yet we think “we” can better ourselves and the world without God. How does this make sense?
Thomas wrote the above long before the Enlightenment. He was describing the enormous challenge of just getting one’s head on straight before we had the added fuel to “think” we don’t need God. Today, whether we recognize it or not, we cast our lot with a few Enlightenment thinkers that came along and said, “Wait, maybe religion doesn’t have all the answers. Those arrogant buggers were wrong all along, about everything! Let’s toss ALL that religious practice and belief aside!”
Religion indeed has had its moments, horrendous moments. Even today, it’s practices can be off-putting. But God, the God revealed in Jesus Christ, the one in the Bible, is spot on. He doesn’t miss. He doesn’t get it wrong. We do, horrendously.
As anyone who has tried to overcome an addiction, or bad habit knows, it’s a monumental struggle. Those going further to try to improve their moral lives find one thing after another that blocks their way. But they keep going. Why? I think Thomas helps us here (remember he’s a monk so his language is different, but the sentiment is the same).
He finishes the quote above with this:
But the true lover of Christ and the eager seeker after holiness does not fall back on these things, nor does he look for pleasurable sensations, but prefers to endure great trials and arduous toil for Christ.
Thomas is saying that the true freedom we seek can only be fueled and found when we seek God with everything we have. No half measures. When we fall back on our own wisdom, we begin to console ourselves saying, “Hey man, you tried. That’s too hard anyway.” Thomas is saying, “keep going.” No matter what.
We don’t need more freedom. We need more religion.
Thanks for reading,
~ Ted Olson