Wednesday, April 27, 2016

6- Moving Toward the Glory of God



            Everything reflects the glory of God at some level. Everything bears the image of God. A trace of the divine is present in the world, including nature and human civilization.

            Yet, everything is also moving toward completion of what God intended. This means the fullness of creation, and the fullness of human life, lies ahead of us. We cannot look backward to some perfect time humanity fell from or an ideal to recover. We look forward to the new world toward which God leads us. It may well be that, as Leslie Weatherhead said in This is the Victory (1941, p. 40), the hope of the world is that God develops the plot of the human story, in which each person can play a part that could make this world happier while at the same time points to a further plan on another stage. In terms of the Christian understanding of this story, God has entered human life, come on our stage, worn our make-up, in order to show us what human life could be. God offers to enter into our lives right now.

            God has seen some value in this process. God has made creation in such a way that it does not have its completion in the past or present, but in a future or destiny of which we can only gain hints and clues today. We are not sure of the end. Faith, hope, and love move us toward that end. The patience of God to work with independent creation and independent human beings to move toward an end that God desires demonstrates the importance of each individual in the web of relationships to move the universe toward that end. God honors each individual and the choices he or she makes. Among the many tragedies of human history is that human beings have not honored individuals as much as God has done.

            The glory of God consists in the dignity and right of God to make it apparent to humanity who God is. When we recognize this glory, God has intruded in our lives in a way that we cannot overlook or forget God. We discover that we cannot possibly avoid God. The glory of God is the beauty of God. Beauty forces us to look away from self, away from other created things and toward God. The beauty of God is how God enlightens, convinces, and persuades us. The beauty of God is the shape and form the revelation of God takes. Christians see this beauty in the attributes of God, in the relationships within the Trinity, and in the Incarnation. The beauty of God is the force and power of God that attracts, wins, and conquers us. God is pleasant, desirable, and full of enjoyment, and creates these qualities in us. When we say that God is glorious and beautiful, we do so because God is love and shows love. The glory and beauty of God attracts us toward God in a way that calls us to love God fully. Glorifying and honoring God can only mean following God. To give honor to God means that in our lives, our words and actions, God makes us conform to the image of the Son of God. With the glory and beauty of God, Christians face the question of how they can help people love what is truly lovely.

            Christians have come to see in Jesus Christ the glory of God. Human beings do not have to guess what God is like. We look to Jesus, whom Christians view as the Son, the Logos, and the Wisdom of God. Paul and John make this Christian understanding of Jesus clear.

Colossians 1:15-20 (NRSV)

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16 for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers-all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross. 

John 1:1-5, 10-14, 16-18 (NRSV)

 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth.

16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father's heart, who has made him known.  

Although the church did not officially develop its teaching on the Trinity until after the New Testament, the core of that teaching is here. For Christians, an essential or ontological difference does not exist between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. The New Testament struggles to express a new vision of who God is. God never existed in isolation. God never had the experience of loneliness. The oneness and unity of God consists in the fellowship of the Trinity. The Father created through the Son and gives life through the Spirit. This granting of independent existence and life is an invitation on the part of God for others to join in this divine fellowship. This divine fellowship honors the difference between Father, Son, and Spirit, while also honoring their divine unity. In the same way, human community recognizes the bond that unites human beings with each other and with the rest of creation, while at the same time honors the individuality of creation and of each human being.

            Irenaeus (second century AD), in Against Heresies, Book IV.20.7, had a memorable way of expressing this truth. God revealed the glory of God throughout history and various ways, respecting the culture and history of humanity at the same time. If God did not show this love and care, humanity could not have lived. He then offers this memorable saying.

For the glory of God is a living human being; and the life of humanity consists in beholding God. For if the manifestation of God that is made by means of the creation, affords life to all living in the earth, much more does that revelation of the Father that comes through the Word, give life to those who see God. 

This suggests that bringing glory and honor to God involves a human life lived fully, abundantly, and meaningfully. Living one's life toward the best human life we can lead is what brings honor and glory to God.
            I now want to become a bit more specific. How can I lead a life that participates in eudaimonia or human flourishing? The question suggests that a life of fullness is preferable to an empty one. It suggests flourishing is preferable to deteriorating. It suggests that what we do now contributes to an end that we think will bring a sense of a life well lived.
 
            First, discovering the center of our lives outside us and in God brings us closer to a full life. This form of life, called worship, involves finding enjoyment beyond self and others and finding it in God. It involves loving God fully. It involves investing our lives in the intention God has for us.

            Second, as social beings, fellowship with other Christians brings us closer to a full life. Human beings need a sense of belonging. We need to learn how to love others, and a good place to do that is the church. Frankly, Christians can be difficult to love. The church is a good place to test our ability to love difficult people. We also learn to work with a community of persons, some with whom we disagree.

            Third, as people who wonder in what the good life consists, becoming increasingly like Christ brings us closer to a full life. We learn how to think, feel, and act throughout life. To learn to do so in a way that reflects what God is doing in the world, we need to give ourselves time to become like Christ. This does not automatically occur. God demonstrated patience with creation by allowing it develop through 15-20 billion years of evolution. In the same way, the grace of God starts forming us at birth and carries us through to the end of the journey.

            Fourth, as people who need a mission in life, sharing the gift that we are with others brings us closer to a full life. The unique set of talents, gifts, skills, and abilities that we are God intends for us to share along the journey of life. The giftedness that we are is a story that we open ourselves to others and tell. In the same way, others share their unique story with us.

            Fifth, as people who need a mission in life, sharing our life and love with others directs others to the God we worship and serve. Our lives are not about directing others to us, but to God.

            What kind of life will lead to human flourishing? Why will we live our lives? I will present the response of one Christian to these questions. Few questions are more important for us to take time to ask and to answer. You may not come to the same conclusion to which I have come. However, I invite you to take this journey with me. Even if in the end you disagree, maybe something I say along the way can nourish you along this part of your journey.

 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

5 - Metaphors for Living: Life is a Test, a gift, and brief


                We have the ability to shape our lives.

            The way we use imagination to envision a possible future influences our future. It influences how we invest time, spend money, use talents, and value relationships.

            Such images are life metaphors. Life is a puzzle; life is a journey; life is a minefield; life is a party; life is a game; life is a battle; life is a race.

            One helpful exercise of the imagination is to reflect upon one's life, consider the pattern one has weaved with one's life, and consider what obvious subtle metaphors have already shaped one's life. We often have family metaphors that shape our lives in tacit ways. Too often, the metaphors by which we have lived our lives have deeply embedded themselves in our subconscious. They may be healthy metaphors – or not. We move toward taking responsibility for our lives as we choose the metaphors by which we will live. We can do this as we take a pause and consider.

            I will suggest three metaphors that I hope prove helpful.

            First, a human life is a test. As Søren Kierkegaard asserts in Practice in Christianity (1850, No. III), this earthly existence of ours is a real test. Life is an examination. To be a human being is to engage in the tests of life. For Kierkegaard, of course, the greatest test is to become and to be a Christian. Human words and deeds testify to one thing, he says – whether he or she is up for the examination.

            This metaphor suggests that each person is responsible for his or her life. It also suggests that we are responsible to someone. It suggests that we are agents of history, and not simply shaped by history. The Bible often uses words like trials, temptations, refining, and testing. It also tells stories that involve the metaphor of testing. The story of the Garden of Eden contains many metaphors. One is whether Adam and Eve would trust God or trust the serpent. When Abraham began a journey with Isaac that almost ended in the sacrifice of his only son, the text says it was a test of whether Abraham would obey God. Joseph lived in Egypt and experienced a moral test through the wife of Pharaoh. He passed the test. King David, on the other hand, failed his test. He failed a moral test with Bathsheba and a criminal test with her husband, as he arranged for his death. He failed the test of raising a family, most dramatically with Absalom. Jesus had a test after his baptism that tested the character of his public ministry.

            Jesus made it clear that death can overtake us at any moment.

Luke 17:26 (NRSV)

26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man.

Mark 13:32 (NRSV)

32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

Mark 13:34-36 (NRSV)

34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake-for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

Luke 12:35-38 (NRSV)

35 "Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; 36 be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

Luke 17:28-30 (NRSV)

28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them 30 -it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.

Luke 13:6-9 (NRSV)

6 Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 7 So he said to the gardener, 'See here! For three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and still I find none. Cut it down! Why should it be wasting the soil?' 8 He replied, 'Sir, let it alone for one more year, until I dig around it and put manure on it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.' " 

Therefore, we need to lead lives in which we are ready. No matter when the end comes for us, we want to die well. That would mean passing the test and being up for the examination.

            We reveal our character in the various tests we have in life. Often, such tests are not of our choosing. Few of us like tests. Some tests in school we have had great anxiety in taking. Life thrusts such tests upon us. We will rise to the occasion and pass the test, or we will discover that we could not pass the test. In some cases, failing a test may help us to redirect our lives. Because life tests us, we must not fear to test life. Every human decision has an open-ended character to it. We can revisit every decision and impulse.

            One of the gifts human beings have is to learn from others. This means that, whether we are aware of it or not, we are evaluating the lives of others all the time. Others are evaluating us all the time. Of course, we hope others will listen to our lives and judge generously. We can also hope that we will extend to others the same courtesy. People see how we relate to others, how we do our jobs, what we do in speaking in public, how we raise our children, how we treat our spouses, how we have fun, how we respond in problems, conflicts, and illness, and so on. Such tests often become ways in which life tests our faith, our hope, and our love.

            Our temptation is to think of tests coming in the large decisions we make in life: whom we shall marry, what career to which we commit ourselves, the development of basic beliefs and values, the decision to move to different parts of the country, and so on. These are important tests of character, beliefs, and values. However, life tests us in the routine of each day. How we treat spouse, children, and pets on a daily basis are hints of the kind of person we are and want to become. How we treat others who serve us throughout the day are important tests. How we treat police officers, soldiers, and firefighters suggests the ways in which we value the interconnection of the community and nation. The question is whether we treat others with generosity and kindness.

            The apostle Paul said it quite well.

Romans 14:7-12 (NRSV)

7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written,

"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall give praise to God."
12 So then, each of us will be accountable to God.

 

            Second, a human life is a journey with a beginning. The nature of the beginning of life is such that a helpful metaphor is that life is a gift. We spend too little time reflecting upon the life metaphor derived from our physical birth. We do not produce our bodies. We are the product of two persons who came together physically and hopefully with love for each other and for the child to come. The biological base for our lives is in the genetic structure that resulted from the union of others. Genetic structure shapes many aspects of our lives. We need a basic trust that as the processes of life unfold, we will have the resources we need. Our time, energy, intelligence, opportunities, relationships, and resources are all gifts. We are stewards of these gifts. Human ownership is always temporary. A saying attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas suggests this same theme: "Become passersby." Jesus told a parable illustrating this dimension of life. We often refer to it as the parable of the talents.

Matthew 25:14-27 (NRSV)

14 "For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; 15 to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. 16 The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. 17 In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. 18 But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money. 19 After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. 20 Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, 'Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.' 21 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 22 And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, 'Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.' 23 His master said to him, 'Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.' 24 Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, 'Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; 25 so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.' 26 But his master replied, 'You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? 27 Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. 

Such a story reminds us of the importance of investing what gifts we have. Further, hoarding such gifts does not lead to fullness of life. Each of us is a gift. The question life poses is whether we will offer the gift that we are to others. If we commit ourselves to do this, we will discover a meaningful and full life. However, if we do not share the gift we are, we selfishly hold it within. We do not give others the benefit of the gift that we are. We deny to others a gift that may benefit their lives and assist them in their journey of life.

            The business side of the parable is quite appropriate. How we manage our money is an apt sign of how we manage our lives. The priorities we have with the use of financial resources suggest the core beliefs and values that guide our lives. For many of us, the greatest test we face in life is how use our financial resources.

            Third, a human life is a journey with an end. Life is temporary, brief, and transient. Jesus told a parable that relates to this metaphor.

Luke 12:16-21 (NRSV)

16 "The land of a rich man produced abundantly. 17 And he thought to himself, 'What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?' 18 Then he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.' 20 But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God." 

Among the most important decisions any of us will make is how attached we become to this world. When we realize how brief the journey is, we can treat this life with the seriousness it deserves, realizing that the only home this body will have is here. God loves this world. To live with God in this world is to love this world with the same love that God has for this world. We will not receive another chance. Yet, we also realize that we need to hold this world somewhat lightly in our minds and hearts. Realizing the temporary nature of human life helps us not to cling to this life.

            The fullness of the meaning of our lives is beyond this world. The full significance of our lives will unfold long after we die. This is what religion calls eternity. In that sense, our eternal home is beyond the home we have on this earth. This awareness opens us to freedom, creativity, and risk. This world can become a prison or trap, as we bind ourselves to the wealth, power, fame, and prestige that it values. We can become a prisoner to the opinions and evaluations of the culture in which we live.

            If we journey without direction, we have wasted time and energy. A vision of eternity helps us to place our culture in perspective. We practice the capacity we have to reflect upon ourselves, as well as the family system, community, and culture that shaped us. We do not know the nature of that eternal home. What we do know is that if we become too attached to this world, we will adopt the values of this world. We will want to receive the fame, power, wealth and status that this world offers. Such dedication will often lead us down a path that we eventually discover is self-destructive. We discover that, no matter what we achieve, we never achieve enough. No matter how many people love us, it is never enough. We have longing, desire, and hope that no degree of fulfillment in this world will satisfy. Satisfaction with what we do, think, and feel here does not satisfy us because human life is oriented beyond this life. In fact, this is why people will sacrifice this life. Some of our fellow citizens will rush into burning buildings, move toward criminals, and fight as soldiers for the freedoms we enjoy, because they value something more than longevity on this earth.

            Paul said in I Corinthians 13: 8, "Love never ends." Most cemeteries have many persons long since dead. They may go back three, four or five generations. They loved. Others loved them. In most cases, no one alive today remembers them or their love. In that sense, love has ended. Yet, the love they shared continues in subtle, unknown ways in the lives of the people they touched, and then the lives that group of people touched, and so on. What Paul said is true if we consider eternity. That means God is the one who preserves love long after we die.

            Frankly, it takes faith, hope, and love to live on earth. Such qualities open us to a possible future. Without such qualities, we close ourselves from imagining a possible future, and simply collapse into the present. Moving forward in life with anticipation opens us to undiscovered potential in ourselves, in others, in the community, in the nation, and in the world. The stories we tell with our lives continue well beyond death.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

4-Living in the Light of the Eternal:Death and Beyond


  
              This life is not all there is.

            I want to be quite clear. God values this life. The process of evolution is long. It took a great deal of time to reach this moment of history. In terms of our individual lives, this biological entity has never existed before and will never exist again. Even if they could exist again, that biological entity would have a different set of experiences that would set it apart. This world is our home. We have a treasure, a unique gift, to share with others. If we follow God's plan, we will love this world in the way that God loves it; we will invest our lives in it the way God has invested in it.

            Yet, we must not grasp or cling to this home as if it alone is our home. Our temporality suggests the eternal, out of which we carve a brief period in which we live. We need to live our lives in light of eternity. In that way, we learn to value this life properly. We embrace people and life; we live passionately, lovingly, and justly. Yet, we do not cling to relationships, things, or countries, as if our happiness depends upon them ultimately. In Christian Perfection, Fenelon (1651-1715) has a sharp way of putting this truth.

"Is this then the world to which we are so devoted?  We only pass through it.  We are on our way out." 

            Living from the perspective of eternity changes our values. We learn to use time and material resources wisely. We place a higher premium on relationships and character instead of fame, wealth, success, power, or pleasure. We have a discerning read of the present, refusing to have the pull of what is popular today dictate our lives.

            Reflecting upon suffering and death helps us to consider the limits of a human life. Our hopes and dreams have limits. Sometimes, things beyond our control, such as disease or accidents, bring an end to our plans and goals. We have no option here. Suffering and death constitute a human life. Some people, sadly, seem to have suffering as their lot in life.

            We view our lives as a good. Consequently, we often fear death, even though we do not know what lies beyond. Fear of death may even come from a fear of having wasted the brief time we have here. We want to live longer and healthier, for we think that, given more time, we might use that time better than we did in the time we have had. We regret lost opportunities. We have guilt over what we have failed to accomplish with the time we have had. In fact, one wonders how deeply the fear of death may influence our thought and behavior throughout life, especially if we suppress thinking about death because it is too depressing.

            Yet, reflection upon the end of our lives can cause us to reflect upon eternity, and therefore to reflect upon God. In that sense, any fear of death we have is a holy fear, for it helps us to imagine this world without our presence. What influence will we have had upon those whom we meet who will continue after our bodily life is finished?

            Some people view death as simply part of the biological flow of life. They say it is no big deal.

            I have seen people die well. Death was like a completion of a life well lived.

            We honor the courageous because they willingly face the possibility of death. The police officer, fire fighter, and soldier, know they face the possibility of death in a conscious and intentional way that people in their everyday lives do not. Sacrifice is what the courageous willingly do. They face a fear most of us keep in the background of our lives.

            Suffering and death reminds us of the broken and fragmented character of a human life. Yet, it also motivates much of our behavior. The vision of the suffering and death of others motivates many persons to relieve suffering and discover the causes of what we consider pre-mature death. When others are in danger, the instinct is there to help, if we possibly can. Suffering and death call out of us qualities like that of compassion and generosity toward others.

            Socrates once said that philosophy is the art of learning how to die. Life itself is preparation for the moment of death. Anthony Bloom, in Beginning to Pray (1970), quoted his father this way.

Always remember that whether you are alive or dead matters nothing. What matters is what you live for and what you are prepared to die for. 

We will die. We could die with regret, guilt, remorse, and/or resentment. We could also die well.  

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

3. What Pulls Our Lives Forward with Hope? [Outwardly focused spirituality]


                We need to uncover what motivates our behavior. Yet, we hear many voices. I want to mention just a few.  

            From a biological perspective, what drives us is the need for individual genes to reproduce themselves. At least, that is what Richard Dawkins tells us in The Selfish Gene (1976). Yet, genes must also cooperate with other genes in order to reproduce, in that they must survive in the same chromosome and cooperate for the survival of this unique body. We have a drive to preserve ourselves, while at the same time recognize that our survival depends upon our ability to cooperate with other people. We have a drive to select sexual partners that will provide a good home for our genes in the lives of children. Women have a drive toward males who invest in the care of their children. Males will have a drive to spread their genes as widely as possible. Since these two drives conflict, deception often occurs, and consequently people develop caution in order to detect the genuine from the deceptive. We have a drive to assist family for the same reason. The closeness of feeling within family is a result of this biological drive. We have a drive to relate to others in our social world in a manner that assumes social status and rank. We have a biological drive to find our place in a social group and, if possible, move up in social status. Of course, the content of what a culture considers status differs from one culture to another, but the existence of status seems to be biologically driven. Some scientists suggest that genes drive us in deceiving others, detecting the deception of others, extending forgiveness, being nice to others, all under the rubric of the drive toward reciprocal altruism.

            From the perspective of psychology, that which drives us arises out of early childhood experiences. It controls, directs, and guides our thinking and behavior. Although we modify this drive in adolescent and adult life, we fall back to this drive when we are under stress or pressure.

            Whether in biology or psychology, we can miss the outward focus of the development of our identity. The drives we have do not determine who we shall be. Rather, the complex web of relations will shape us.

The Enneagram has been a useful tool that many people have used to understand our complex interaction with the world. I should stress that its nine elements are within each of us, even though for most people one of the nine will dominate.

            The need to be in control drives some people. Such people focus upon who has power, who does not have power, and how they can acquire more power over their lives and the lives of others.

            The need not to be in conflict drives some people. Such people want to have peace at almost any cost, and thus become quite passive in relationships with others.

            The need to get things right in their personal and organizational life drives some people. Such persons experience resentment and anger, for they can never get life quite right. While such persons perpetuate the past through resentment, the persons who hurt them have already gone on with their lives.

            The need to be helpful to those around them, often leading to wanting others to become dependent upon them, drives some people. Pride is often at the root.

            The need to be successful drives some people, even if it means putting on an act in the presence of others. This need for approval often leads to losing a sense of one's true self by being lost in the crowd.

            Envy drives some people, always longing for a love they can never possess. In fact, this drive leads one to cling to individual things, as if one can get meaning and fulfillment by doing so. Acquiring more becomes the goal of their lives.

            Intellectual knowledge, often acquired in isolation and achieving a position where one can look down upon others, drives some people. Such persons often keep this knowledge to themselves, almost as if they horde this knowledge and refuse to share it with others.

            Fear drives some people, as they seek solidarity with a group in which they think they can trust. Such persons often miss great opportunities in their fear to venture out and take risks. They identify with the status quo of the group, playing it safe when taking a risk may be the reasonable response. Their fear becomes a prison against which they must move with faith.

            Pleasure drives some people, as they avoid pain at all costs.

            Behind such drives exists a core experience of alienation from the gift God intends us to be and alienation from significant others in our lives. We experience this alienation as we lose ourselves in being average, melding into the crowd. The crowd becomes a prison from which our true self seeks to liberate itself. We experience this alienation in a core anxiety. A basic trust in the processes of life encourages openness to possible futures. However, core anxiety closes us off from such potential. Guilt is another way the past keeps its hold over the present and blocks us off from a potential future. The transgression of perceived norms for behavior becomes the occasion for guilt.

            Now, the drives that we develop through our interaction with the world may take self-destructive shapes. I do not mean to be too psychological here, but we must not forget that our core drive helped us move through childhood and adolescence. Our problem becomes when we live out of drives that are inappropriate as adults in new situations. The good news is that we are not prisoners to our biological or psychological drives. Unlike other living things, we do not have to live our lives simply out of what drives us. We can live our lives out of the future, as we consider the pull of a hope toward a possible or imagined future. We can be faithful to our future self, a self that does not yet exist, but toward which we move.

            We will move toward the best human life that we can lead if we consider this: To what end and for what purpose do we live? Human beings are highly resilient and resourceful as long as they think they can do something. We consider that hope by which we will live our lives. Even if we have only a vague awareness of a better future, that which we anticipate becomes a powerful pull toward something of which we are not entirely clear. Such a hope gives meaning to our lives. We want our lives to have some sense of wholeness and integration. We want our lives to make sense. We want even the unpredictable events of our lives to contribute toward some positive end. Once we consider to what end and for what purpose, we gain confidence to make decisions that simplify our lives toward that end. It helps us define what we do and what we will not do. When we have confidence in the end toward which we move, we have a basis for making decisions, allocating time, and using resources. Knowing the end toward which we move focuses our lives by concentrating our effort and energy on what is important. We no longer live lives of aimless distraction. We cannot do everything. We can stop dabbling in many things, and focus our lives on the unique gift God has given us to share in this life. Focusing on sharing this unique gift gives us passion for living. It powerfully motivates our lives.

            Lastly, knowing the end toward which our lives move prepares us for eternity. Friedrich Schleiermacher, in his On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers (1799, 1806, 1831), suggested that most of us have a sense that our temporal lives are carved out of eternity. He used the image of a painting, of which we are aware that we are only a small part. We might also the image of a story. Our lives are a story we tell to ourselves and to others. As we engage others, we become part of their story, and they become part of our story. We are responsible to each other for the story we tell. However, God is the one to whom we are accountable for our story. We need to discern the unique gift God has given us, share that gift with others, and weave our lives into the story God is telling in the world. Our lives as lived on this earth will not achieve their fullness. The lives we touched continue to tell the story long after we die and long after people forget our names. Eternity is the realm where the fullness and meaning of our lives becomes clear.

            Only two questions remain. Have we aligned ourselves with what God is doing in the world? What have we done with the unique gift that we are?