13 December 2009

The Realtor Was Wrong; It's "Motivation, Motivation, Motivation"

Don’t ask me to talk to your teenager about the state of his soul, please don’t. I will end up asking him questions about himself rather than presenting him with this very serious theological topic. My goal will probably not be the same as yours--to get him 'born again.'
If I recall properly, your teenager takes nothing more seriously than his “owning” his “identity.” And though "scaring" a teen towards God might work in the shortrun, it seems that God’s timetable is a lifetime.  With regards to the teen,  we would do well to pay attention to the state of the "patient" rather than rushing directly to the goal.
This me to the topic of motivation and how people come to faith.
I reflect on my childhood mind and my spiritual development. I grew up in the 1950’s, attending Mass every Sunday (and the Holy Days). My spiritual life was self-contained (therefore arrogant and blissful) ignorance. I thought I had it sewn up, for I knew about prayer-I knew the Lord’s prayer and had begun the “Hail Mary.” I felt I was doing pretty well—you might say I was on a casual first-name basis with God. I knew him less well than I might know a mailman or doctor, of course, but there was a sense of easy acquaintance.
Then around 6 years old, I attended catechism class and I ran into the concept of sin, and hell. I was horrified-and terrified. How could such a thing have happened to my benign concept of God? My mind went immediately  to the practical: I raised my hand to ask the nun a question so we could remedy our problem Straightfacedly, as only children can do, using the illustration the nun gave (as an analogy), I took it literally. I asked her why couldn’t the doctor perform “an operation to remove the stain on our soul” put there by sin. (This illustration shows not only how literal my mind was but how urgent a situation it was to me.)
It was a shock, for up until then, I had a vague and subjective idea of how to be acceptable to God, and I had not even a suspicion that you could love God, nor what loving God would appear to resemble.

For a long period of my youth I carried correct theological information, but I had no sense of appetite for God: it wasn't a dull appetite, it was a dead appetite. It is because of this experience (I confess) that I do not normally recommend preaching about hell and sin to nonbelievers. First, it seems to be the least effective way to make a convert. Second, (and I think more importantly) the impetus for faith does not come from a desire to stay away from damnation, but from an internal compulsion for only what God can give.
Faith built on fear is no faith at all: it is avoidance. Since Jesus asked his apostles to make disciples, and not mere converts, we need to follow His direction.
When I reflect on the pre-catechism child, I see that little child patterns that resemble patterns of thought found in most areligious people, i.e., a vague sense of who God is, what His role might be, but He’s mostly irrelevant. And when I reflect on the post-catechism child, I recognize a more informed person, but merely an informed person. In this way I resembled many religious, well-intentioned people.
But in that child, there resided no desire to be a Christian that came from reverential love, but it stemmed mostly from fear, and a desire to avoid bad consequences. She did not have even the beginning of a transformed heart, I was not a disciple.

A disciple will want to do the right things - and be conjoined with God because he loves:
“Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” (John 14:22,23)
The Spirit of Christ works in transforming a person, and for that is a co-operative venture between the person, and the Spirit.

So, when I was a youth the spiritual landscape was only beginning to be “mapped out.” I was like someone who had the directions to New York City, but not the tickets, or reservations. Later, when I committed to knowing who this God was, that I boarded the airplane and actually took the trip and experienced New York City.

CS Lewis has a section in which he reflects on people’s reasons to believe, a detour he makes after remarking on a period wherein the Old Testament is silent on eternal destiny of the Jews:
“Is it possible for men to be too much concerned with their eternal destiny? In one sense, paradoxical as it sounds, I should reply, Yes.
For the truth seems to me to be that happiness or misery beyond death, simply in themselves, are not even religious subjects at all. A man who believes in them will of course be prudent to seek the one and avoid the other. But that seems to have no more to do with religion than looking after one’s health or saving money for one’s old age. The only difference here is that the stakes are so very much higher.
And this means that, granted a real and steady conviction, the hopes and anxieties aroused are overwhelming. But they are not on that account the more religious. They are hopes for oneself, anxieties for oneself. God is not in the centre. He is still important only for the sake of something else. Indeed such a belief can exist without a belief in God at all. Buddhists are much concerned with what will happen to them after death, but are not, in any true sense, Theists.
It is surely, therefore, very possible when God began to reveal Himself to men, to show them that He and nothing else is their true goal and the satisfaction of their needs, and that He has a claim upon them simply by being what He is, quite apart from anything that He can bestow or deny, it may have been absolutely that this revelation should not begin with any hint of future Beatitude [supreme blessedness] or Perdition [eternal damnation]. These are not the right point to begin at. A…belief in them, coming too soon, may even render impossible the development of (so to call it) the appetite for God; personal hopes and fears, too obviously exciting, have got in first.
Later…men have learned to desire and adore God, to pant after Him ‘as pants the hart,’ it is another matter. For then those who love God will desire not only to enjoy Him but ‘to enjoy Him forever,’ and will fear to lose Him. And it is by that door that a tru[e] hope of Heaven and fear of Hell can enter; as corollaries to a faith already centered upon God, not as things of any independent or intrinsic weight. It is even arguable that the moment “Heaven” cease to mean union with God and “Hell” to mean separation from Him, the belief in either is a mischievous superstition; for then we have, on the one hand, a merely ‘compensatory’ belief (a ‘sequel’ to life’s sad story, in which ‘everything will come [out] all right’) and, on the other, a nightmare which drives men into asylums or makes them persecutors.

Fortunately, by God’s good providence, a strong and steady belief of that self-seeking and sub-religious kinds is extremely difficult to maintain, and is perhaps possible only to those who are slightly neurotic. Most of us find that our belief in the future life is strong only when God is in the centre of our thoughts; that if we try to use the hope of “Heaven” as a compensation (even..for…bereavement) it crumbles away. It can, on those terms, be maintained only by arduous efforts of controlled imagination; and we know in our hearts that the imagination is our own.
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All this is only one man’s opinion. And it may be unduly influenced by my own experience. For I was allowed for a whole year to believe in God and try—in some stumbling fashion—to obey Him before any belief in the future life was given me. And that year always seems to me to have been of very great value. It is therefore…natural that I should suspect similar value in the centuries which the Jews [in the Old Testament] were in the same position.”

  • CS Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms