Posted by: Dan | June 15, 2006

Driven by Calling not Driven to Succeed

Success may be the fruit of our commitment, but can never be the basis for our commitment. Instead, commitments are made because we believe that we are called to give ourselves to certain persons, causes, and situations.
~ Charles Ringma, finding naasicaa: letters of hope in an age of anxiety

It is this experience of being “called” that distances the Christian approach to vocation from the secular approach. While secular professionalism is driven by a fundamental pragmatism — that makes success the basis of commitment — Christians are only motivated by success secondarily, it at all. The basic question of Christian living is not: “how can I succeed?” but rather: “how can I be faithful to God's call?” There are two key points in this that I want to draw out in a little more detail.

First of all, the vocation that one fulfills, as a Christian, is not simply a vocation that one chooses for oneself. It is not as if we can simply choose any job that we want to choose. The language of calling reminds us that God calls us to certain specific vocations — and the implication of this is that God does not call us to certain other vocations. Certainly I can be a Christian and work any job under the sun, but working certain jobs contradicts my Christian identity and causes me to live in some sort of fractured schizophrenic realm. For example, I can be a Christian, and I can be a pimp, but the two things are radically opposed to each other. Or, to choose another example, I can be a Christian and work for the Royal Bank of Canada but, once again, the two things are in radical opposition. This is so because, despite our particular and individual vocational callings, there is a general call that God places upon all Christians. We are all called to be Spirit-filled members of the body of Christ (the Church, the Christian faith-community) and, as a part of that body, we are all to be agents of God's new creation amidst the groanings of the world. Because we are agents of God's new creation, we cannot be agents of anything or anybody that stands in opposition to new life. That is why I cannot be a pimp, or work for the Royal Bank of Canada; I cannot be a crack dealer or work for the GAP; I cannot be a member of the Hells Angels or be a soldier for the State. All of these jobs and institutions are death-dealing, not life-giving, and agents of God's new creation should have nothing to do with them.

Secondly, the language of calling reminds us that our approach to life should be governed by faithfulness, not by pragmatism. Unfortunately, Christians have largely adopted a secular approach to life, and so all the activities in which we engage (even charity!) are governed by secular notions of success. This notion of success is foreign to Christian thinking because it has little patience for such things as suffering love, solidarity, and the embrace of weakness. Tragically, Christians have confused this success with faithfulness — and when this occurs we don't even need to hear God's call because we already know what to do.

However, if we do listen to God's call, we discover a very different starting place, because God calls us to truly odd, unexpected, and painful things. Embracing suffering, including sufferings that seem to never end, makes no sense from a pragmatic perspective. Yet, from the perspective of God's call, it is the only thing we can do. And so we do embrace suffering, not in order to succeed, but in order to be faithful.

Of course, in all of this we are motivated by a hope that transcends all other notions of success — the hope that God will bring new life out of death, joy out of sorrow, wholeness out of brokenness, something out of nothingness, and light out of darkness. Consequently, faithfulness is defined by a hope that ventures into the depths of utter hopelessness. Faithfulness chooses to remain in the dark and wait for God's light to come because it believes that we don't know what light is, or what light does, until God brings it. It admits that we are blind and unable to recognise light until we have been granted vision. Faithfulness recognises that, in our pragmatic attempts to bring light, we only end up burning our loved ones and ourselves. Of course, this is not to suggest that faithfulness requires us to do nothing. What it does suggest is that faithfulness requires us to do things that made make sense to nobody else. Like Abraham called away from his homeland, like the Hebrews called into the wilderness, and like Jesus called to take up a cross, our callings will also seem like complete folly to those who are only motivated by success and operate with a pragmatism that knows little of a crucified God, and little of resurrection life.

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