Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight.

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more.

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,

and when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

~C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On "Vocation"--Chapter 5 of Engaging God's World

So many of the essays we’ve read so far have touched on the idea of vocation—the life that Christians are called to live.  Or, perhaps, even the life that we are called to live as human beings.  (As my philosophy prof was fond of saying, “There is a kind of life that creatures like us are meant to live.”)  Questions such as “What am I doing here?” and “What should I be doing as a college student?” all point back to the central question, “What is God calling me to do and be? ”  All the rest of Plantinga leads up to this.  We are all longing for God’s coming kingdom of shalom—how do we get there?  God created the universe, including human beings—what is our role in it?  We are both fallen redeemed in Christ, simul justus et pecatore—how, then, should we respond?  What comes next?  What does it all mean for me, in terms of my own everyday life?
One of the first things Plantinga mentions in this chapter is passion—passion in our repentance, in our thirst for justice and peace, in our joy at God’s grace and goodness.  First and foremost, God calls us to follow Him, to obey His laws and spread His gospel, to be citizens of His kingdom.  But God doesn’t simply call us to get baptized and go back to our old way of living, or to attend church on Sunday morning and forget about Him the other six days of the week.  He calls us not only to serve Him, but to do it with passion, with our whole soul, mind, and strength.  He wants us to give it everything we’ve got!  Plantinga calls this being a “prime citizen” of the Kingdom, the essence of Christian vocation. 
But one Christian’s prime citizenship will look very different from another’s.  To serve God passionately means something different for each person, because everyone has a different mix of resources, talents, opportunities, and interests.  Furthermore, God is the source of these gifts—of all of them, the painful and the wonderful, the tedious and frightening and seemingly small—and His glory is their goal.  As Abraham Kuyper said, “In the total expanse of human life there is not a single square inch of which the Christ, who alone is sovereign, does not declare, ‘That is mine!’”  This means that our vocation is much more than just finding a “Christian” job.  No job, not ministry or missions or working for a Christian non-profit, is more “Christian” than another.  After all, the world needs farmers and factory workers as well as pastors.  God wants us all to serve Him, but not everyone is cut out for work in a church, or spreading the good news overseas.  That God is Lord of every square inch of the universe also means that vocation is how we live our whole lives, not just how we perform our work.  We each fill many roles—student or teacher, employee or boss, husband, wife, child, parent, mentor, friend—the list could go on and on.  A lawyer who advocates on behalf of the wrongfully imprisoned by day but is rude or hostile to her family at night isn’t giving her all to God.   How we earn a living may be an important part of our vocation, but it is still only a part, and not even necessarily a very big part of it.
For example, I’m currently a freshman at Calvin College, an English for Secondary Education major, and serving God by studying hard, being inquisitive, and exploring my chosen field is a large part of my vocation.  But I’m also treasurer of a student club, a member of two online writing communities, a martial artist, musician, floormate, roommate, sibling, and friend.  These are all part of my vocation too.  I serve God when I write a good essay for a class as well as when I write a good short story for fun, when I stay up till all hours discussing philosophy and theology with my friends or spend all afternoon in the gym doing wushu forms.  I even serve God by going to bed on time, taking short showers, and observing quiet hours in my dorm room!  Wherever there is passion, true humility, and a will to serve others, and, by doing so, glorify God, I am fulfilling my vocation.  Where any of these is lacking, I fall short.
There are two more implications of God’s Lordship over the entire universe.  First, the work of all people—whether Christians or not—belongs to God.  God uses even those who disbelieve in Him or have never heard of Him for His purposes.  This goes back to the idea of common grace.  Apart from God’s grace, none of us can do good; but that grace falls on all people, believers and non-believers alike.  Secondly, God is God of movies and heavy metal music as well as opera and Bach, of Shakespeare as well as modern poetry, of Chinese and Latin, of sermons and chats at the campus coffee shop.  If our vocation is to serve God passionately in all areas of our life, then this necessarily includes engagement with culture.  Human culture is a part of God’s creation, fallen like the rest, but also, like the rest, essentially and originally good.  A Christian who only shops at Christian stores, reads Christian books, listens to Christian music, and consorts with other, like-minded people is no Christian at all.  “God’s plan,” says Plantinga, “is to gather up all things in Christ.”  But how can we gather up popular fiction for Christ, if we pretend it doesn’t exist?  How can we gather up television, if we refuse to watch?  Most importantly, how can we gather up non-believers if we turn our backs on them?  “How ungrateful it would be,” he laments, “to receive the bread of life and then refuse to share it with others.”  Engaging with the culture around us allows us not only to work towards redeeming that culture but also the people of that culture.  Evangelizing from behind an impenetrable wall of Christian friends, Christian perspectives, and Christian experiences is futile--in essence, cowardice.  Being aware of temptation and avoiding it is good, but avoiding the world is a sin in itself, a waste of God-given time and talent.  Fear of the world (for that is exactly what such a tendancy is at heart) is a lack of faith in the strength and provision of Christ.  True Christianity exists not to build walls, but to break them all down.

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