spirituality & self-seeking endeavors

Roland H. Bainton, in his book, Here I Stand. A Life of Martin Luther, writes: “Even our very quest for God is a disguised form of self-seeking” (p. 176).

This reminded me of something Karl Barth wrote in his famous Romans commentary:

“Look how Michelangelo has depicted the ‘Creation of Eve’: in the fullness of her charm and beauty she rises slowly, posing herself in the fatal attitude of—worship. Notice the Creator’s warning arm and careworn, saddened eyes, as He replies to Eve’s gesture of adoration. She is manifestly behaving as she ought not. Eve—and we must honor her as the first ‘religious personality’—was the first to set herself against God, the first to worship Him; but, inasmuch as SHE worshiped HIM, she was separated from Him in a manner at once terrible and presumptuous… Tragic—because, when men, knowing good and evil, become like God, when their direct relation with Him gives birth to independent action, then all direct relationship is broken off”(Romans, p. 247).

The church needs to be reminded of this reality. Our endeavor to make worship, any aspect of church life, or even the church itself more meaningful or intentional only exposes our separation from God. It is, as Luther believed, more about ourselves than God.

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  • Jeff Roach

    Bravo! You must hear what Richard Rohr has to say. By the far the most clear and insightful on these matters. I am still trying to find the CDs for you…

  • Richard

    What a quandry. How do we get around it? I do not think it is possible, this side of heaven,to detach ourselves from ourselves fully. There always seems to be some self motivation in the way. I have given up trying to analyze myself and am content to try and do my best. God knows me better than I know myself anyway.

  • I think Barth would agree that it is a quandry, but one we have to acknowledge and live with, not one we must overcome. We cannot.

  • Julia

    Hi David,
    I’m intrigued by Barth’s comment about becoming god when we know good/evil. I think this applies to me when I make decisions about who is good and what is evil around me (what Barth calls “independant action”). Bonhoeffer refers to this as well when he says that these “right/wrong” rules we live by actually separate us from god and define our fallen state. They interrupt our relationship with God because we don’t need him; we have our rules/judgments. It’s amazing to realise just how many rules we live by every day, calling them “righteous judgments” or “standards” (or what ever). It is astounding for me to realise that I don’t have to decide how others are right or wrong. In fact, I cannot make those judgments. Reeks of relativism, I know (two points for Jeff)but I think it’s a kinder way to live.

    Re: Your comments about searching for meaning – I’m still chewing….
    Tastes like lima beans.

  • John

    How do we (individuals and the church) know when we have crossed that line of dependance and independance?

  • I think we have “crossed the line”. It can’t be helped. Our “dependence” upon God exposes our implicit separation from him. Our “independence” from him exposes our obvious separation from him.

  • Fred

    It certainly is self-serving to seek God. God designed us to need and want him. Consider John Piper’s book, “Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist” (http://www.desiringgod.org/dg/id1.htm), in which he illustrates what we were made to pursue happiness and that happiness is truly found in God and his purposes for us. Pursue away!

    We can also attempt to analyze ourselves until we are confident of the material makeup of the lint in our bellybuttons. A waste of time. I will stop looking in the mirror, trying to judge the motive behind every behaviour (which I can’t because my own heart will lie to me (Jeremiah 17:9); all I can do is line myself with God’s living Word and allow it to inform my life, my actions, etc. (Hebrews 4:12). I will pursue God in faith and knowledge that he wants me to and he will purify my pursuit of him.

  • Wendy

    I find this topic interesting but somewhat disconcerting too…it seems that the desire to strip away everything that might look like “forced” worship aka “intentional” and create a new bare bone church is still man’s vision of what church should look like.

    I mean, who decides what is church?

    Also, I get nervous when people say they can not judge what is good or evil…that in some way it seperates them from God. If anything, it seperates you from the common sense and wits that God gave you to make intelligent choices…but I am probably taking Julia’s comments to literally. Can someone explain this better to me??

  • John

    Wendy….thanks for putting my thought into words!

  • Julia: hop back into the ring. You can do it!

  • Julia Mawer

    Sorry for the delay – computer problems.
    Wendy – I’d like to clarify.
    I agree with you about common sense things. If I am hurting someone or myself, that’s not common sense.
    I’m talking about our own beliefs that are outside the realm of common sense. If I hold the these 5 things as the truth (whatever they are) and then expect others to believe the same, I put myself in God’s place. If someone asks me what is wrong in their life and I tell them, according to my own belief system, I’m the judge. They don’t need God..I don’t need God. It’s all worked out.
    If I already know good and evil, what do I need God for? If God is the judge, I don’t judge my self, nor do I judge others. Then, our relationship is not interupted. Daily I can converse with God – What about this, God? What about that? – instead of – Oh, I’ve got this one all figured out. Rules vs relationship.
    Have I muddied the waters yet again? If so, I’ll happily try again:)

  • Julia

    Hi guys, I’ve written a response 4 times and it hasn’t gone through! Computer problems….
    Okay, the 5th time’s a charm!
    Wendy, I think I get you about the common sense stuff. You mean the things that hurt ourselves and/or others?
    I’m talking about things that are a little more nebulous. If I have decided that these 5 things are wrong (whatever they are: drinking alcolol, smoking pot, homosexuality, whatever…)and expect others to have the same list, I stand as the judge. If I expect others to have the same list as I do, I remove God as the judge (the righteous judge)and become one myself (so unrighteous).I may, in good conscience, hold to these personal beliefs faithfully. And it would be wrong FOR ME to do them. But, I cannot expect others to follow my list.
    On another note, when my beliefs become rules, I forego a daily relationship with God. None – no more – because the rules of living replace daily connection with God. The longer we are Christians, the easier it is to have rules rather than a relationship (of which I have a few tonnes).
    If I’ve muddied the waters even more, I’d happily try again because, for me, this realization has brought a boat load of peace and the promise of daily connection with God rather than mundane religion.

  • Fred

    I disagree. I think there are things that are clearly wrong. However, I also believe that we are all on a spiritual journey and God deals with “wrong things” at a different pace (and order) for each person.

  • Julia,

    I like what you said – if God is the judge then we don’t have to judge ourselves or others. I think it’s too bad that some don’t allow God be the judge.

  • Julia

    I’ll add this thought:
    I think God’s voice is more clearly heard when I stop speaking to others about their “sins”. When I appoint myself to speak to others about their beliefs, it’s a judgment call and I am stepping in front of God. I can support people in their quest for God, all the while looking to see what he is doing. In the end, I don’t want to be a competing voice with God (although many times I am).