Avoiding Ourselves By Avoiding God

From “Peace of Soul”
by Fulton J. Sheen, 1895-1979

The truth of the matter is, not that God is hard to find, but rather that we are afraid of being found. That is why we so very often hear in sacred scripture the words “Fear not.” Our Lord finds it necessary to warn us not to fear because there are three false fears that keep us away from God:

1: We want to be saved but not from our sins.
2: We want to be saved but not at too great a cost.
3: We want to be saved but in our own way, not God’s.

We want to be saved but not from our sins.

The great fear that many souls have of our divine Lord is for fear he will do just what his name “Jesus" implies, be “he who saves us from our sins.” We are willing to be saved from poverty, from war, from ignorance, from disease, from economic insecurity; such types of salvation leave our individual whims and passions and concupiscences untouched. That is one of the reasons why social Christianity is so very popular, why there are many who contend that the business of Christianity is to do nothing but to help in slum clearance or the development of international amity. This kind of religion is, indeed, very comfortable, for it leaves the individual conscience alone. It is even possible that some persons are prompted to courageous reforms of social injustices by the very inquietude and uneasiness of their individual consciences. Knowing that something is wrong on the inside, they attempt to compensate for it by righting the wrong on the outside. Because some people think that the primary purpose of divinity is to relieve economic adversity, they go to God in the moment of trial and then rebel against God because he does not fill their purses. Sensing a broader need for religion, others are willing to join a Christian sect so long as it concentrates on social “uplift” or the elimination of pain but leaves untouched the individual need of atoning for sin. At the average dinner table, people do not object to the subject of religion being introduced into a conversation, provided that religion has nothing to do with the purging of sin and guilt. Thus many frightened souls stand trembling at the gate of bliss and dare not venture in, “fearful lest having him they have naught else besides."

We want to be saved, but not at too great a cost.

The God who dungs his fields with sacrifice to bring forth the vine of life always frightens the timid. The rich man went away sad from the Saviour because he had very great possessions. Felix was only willing to hear Paul “at another time,” when Paul spoke of judgment and the giving up of evil. Most souls are afraid of God precisely because of his goodness, which makes him dissatisfied with anything that is imperfect. Our greatest fear is not that God may not love us enough but that God may love us too much. As the lover wants to see his beloved perfect in manners and deportment, so, too, God, in loving us, desires that we be perfect as his heavenly Father is perfect. As the musician loves the violin and tightens the strings with a sacrificial strain that they may give forth a better tone, so God submits us to sacrifice to make us saints.

This fear that God's love will make exorbitant demands accounts for the many learned men and women who have come to a knowledge of God, yet have refused to venture in his sheepfold. The world is full of scholars who speak about extending the frontiers of knowledge but who never use the knowledge that has already been acquired; who love to knock at the door of truth but would drop dead if that door ever opened to them. For truth implies responsibility. Every gift of God in the natural as well as in the supernatural order demands a response on the part of the soul. In the natural order, people refuse to accept the gift of friendship because it creates an obligation. God’s gift likewise involves a moment of decision. And because accepting him demands a surrender of what is base, many become bargain hunters in religion and dilettantes in morality, refusing to tear false idols from their own hearts. They want to be saved, but not at the price of a cross; there echoes through their lives the challenge of old, “Come down from the Cross and we will believe.”

We want to be saved, but in our own way, not God's.

Very often one hears it said that people ought to be free to worship God, each in his own way. This indeed is true, so far as it implies freedom of conscience and each person‘s duty of living up to the special lights that God has given him. But it can be very wrong if it means that we worship God in our way and not in his. Consider an analogy: The traffic situation would be tangled and desperate if we said that the American way of life allowed every person to drive a car in his or her way and not according to the traffic laws. A catastrophe would result if patients began saying to the doctor, “I want to be cured in my own way, but not in yours,“ or if citizens said to the government, “I want to pay my taxes, but in my own way and not in yours." Similarly, there is a tremendous egotism and conceit in those popular articles and lectures entitled “My Idea of religion," or “My Idea of God." An individual religion can be as misleading and uninformed as individual astronomy or an individual mathematics. Persons who say, “I will serve God in my way, and you serve God in your way,” ought to inquire whether it would not be advisable to serve God in God's way.

If we fly from God, it is because his goodness is our reproach and because union with him demands disunion and divorce from evil. We cannot long stand a God who looks into our soul and sees its ugliness without falling to our knees; even the flight from him witnesses to our need of beauty, our love of the beautiful. As light reveals all things and yet is not a part of that upon which it shines, so do God‘s power, wisdom and love suffuse us, for in him we live and move and have our being. We know him, but few want to be known by him. We love created things because he put some of his love in them; otherwise, they could not be lovable. Yet few want to love him because he loves too much. He wants us to be perfect, and we do not want to be perfect. But even in our escape from the perfect, we are driven back to it in our discontent with the mediocre, our weariness of the ordinary. God is all-wise, therefore our condition is revealed; God is ever-present, therefore our hidden sins are seen. There is no escape from God.

Yet ever since the days of Adam, humanity has been hiding from God and saying, “God is hard to find.” The truth is that, in each heart, there is a secret garden that God made uniquely for himself. That garden is locked like a safety-deposit vault. It has two keys. God has one key; hence the soul cannot let in anyone else but God. The human heart has the other key, hence not even God can get in without man‘s consent. When the two keys of God’s love and human liberty, of divine vocation and human response, meet, then paradise returns to a human heart. God is always at that garden gate with his key. We pretend to look for our key, to have mislaid it, to have given up the search; but all the while it is in our hand if we would only see it. The reason we are not as happy as saints is because we do not wish to be saints.

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