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The world asks, “How can I get more?” Christianity asks, “What can I do without?” The world asks, “How can I find myself?” Christianity asks. “How can I lose myself?” The world asks, “How can I love myself better?” Christianity asks, “How can I love God more?”
Girolamo Savonarola’s The Simplicity of the Christian Life is actually a discussion of the nature of the good life. He is seeking to answer the question, “What makes people happy?” of all created beings, writes Savonarola, only humans have to struggle to discover their proper role in the whole scheme of things. We are the only ones who seek for meaning, purpose, happiness. The peaceful happy life, says Savonarola, is not found primarily in sensual pursuits; nor in intellectual pursuits; nor even in spiritual pursuits, as normally understood. No the happy life is rooted in being obedient children of God the Father and discovered in imitating the life and teaching of Jesus. The main means through which this simple life of the Imitatio Christi occurs is love of our Father in Heaven.
Kierkegaard’s Purity of Heart is to will One Thing relentlessly forces us to come, naked and alone, before God, where we must decide how to live. In reality, these subjects are an extended commentary on words of the Apostle James, “Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind” (James 4:8).
His point is a simple one. God is the only whole, satisfying, unifying reality in the universe. No desire can be fully satisfied when it is outside of God, and the individual becomes “not merely double-minded but thousand-minded, and at variance with himself.”
Peacefulness and fullness of heart, then, is found in willing only the good, which is God. To do so unifies and simplifies everything. Utter abandonment, absolute commitment to the good, to God, is the requirement for willing one thing, for purity of heart.
“There have been times in my life when suffering was so paramount and inner peace seemed so far away that I have wondered if I would ever find it again…on hindsight I have gradually discovered… that it was in these very times of personal pain that God was in fact calling me to deepen my faith and trust in him” (Buckley, Let Peace Disturb You, p. 28).
When we feel life closing in around us, the darkness descending, or when it seems a hopeless task to change our own circumstances or the situation of those for whom we feel a responsibility, can there really be a way forward? Or should we ‘cut and run’ if we’re not made of the stuff of martyrs? When the pressure is really on, Christians often do not feel capable of responding decisively and objectively, let alone able to discern “the truth” of the matter or hand it over into God’s care. Too often we are victims rather than victors in our experiences of stress. How does this happen? And why?