On the one hand, we’re called to be passionate, to engage all of our heart, mind, soul and strength in our faith.
On the other hand, we’re called to live counter-culturally: to rise above all the bickering and infighting and ugliness that characterizes too much of our political and church culture.
Maybe what first got me thinking about this tension is the fact that this Sunday is St. James’ Day, and Jesus gave James (along with his brother John) the nickname “Boanerges,” which means “sons of thunder.”
One doesn’t earn a nickname like that by being a milquetoast.
God created us with strong desires. But too often we lose touch with those passions. In a passage called “Flabby with Small Passions,” the author John Eldredge reminds us that the devil’s ploy is to first make us humans flabby, with small passions and desires, and then we offer small satisfactions to those diminished passions so our experience is one of contentment, until:
We know nothing of great joy or great sorrow. We are merely nice.
Christianity has come to the point where we believe that there is no higher aspiration for the human soul than to be nice. We are producing a generation of men and women whose greatest virtue is that they don't offend anyone. Then we wonder why there is not more passion for Christ. How can we hunger and thirst after righteousness if we have ceased hungering and thirsting altogether?
As C. S. Lewis said, “We castrate the gelding and bid him be fruitful.”
The greatest enemy of holiness is not passion; it is apathy. Look at Jesus. He was no milksop. His life was charged with passion. After he drove the crooks from the temple, “his disciples remembered that it is written: 'Zeal for your house will consume me'" (John 2:17). This isn't quite the pictures we have in Sunday school, Jesus with a lamb and a child or two, looking for all the world like Mr. Rogers with a beard. The world's nicest guy. He was something far more powerful. He was holy.”
As I’ve said before, the word “nice” is nowhere in the Bible. Love, yes. Compassionate, yes. But no where are we called to set aside our fierceness, our strength, our passion. Quite the contrary, we’re called to engage every part of our heart, soul, mind and strength as we love God and our neighbor as ourselves.
But – here’s the other hand – that doesn’t give us an excuse to fall into the nastiness of our culture: the bickering, infighting and ugliness we see so much of. (Is it just me, or have political bumper stickers become more even more mean-spirited lately?)
Our call is different. As one of my favorite quotes puts it, “we are called to make gentle our bruised world, to tame its savageness, to be compassionate of all, including ourselves…”
The challenge is to find ways to engage all of our passions and desires in service to God and others. The challenge is not to squelch our passions and desires, but to offer and channel them in ways that God is glorified and others are served. The challenge is to throw every part of our self into a cause that builds up instead of tears down.
That’s more biblical, and Jesus-like.
It’s also a far more compelling vision of Christian spirituality – one you can get excited about and follow – don’t you think?