Monday, July 29, 2013

Choice or Calling. . .

A discussion held with various people over several years prompted by several subjects has seemed always to confuse choice with calling.  Though I am sure I articulated this distinction poorly in each case, I have begun to see how we equate choice with calling and calling with choice.  It undermines the whole notion of vocation (a big thing for us Lutherans) and it reduces calling to a mere decision.  Perhaps it is the prevalence of decision theology churches where I serve or it could simply be our desire to reduce all of life down to a matter of choices but vocation is not the same as a decision.  If there is any real tie between vocation or calling and decision it is in the realm of consent.  We consent to the vocation that has come to us from God; we do not choose it as one among several or many options.

The calling of the prophets were certainly not exercises of choice for those called.  They found excuses to justify why they believed they were the wrong people.  They gave reasons why they lacked the necessary qualifications to serve.  At least one ran away in the hopes of escaping the call.  In the end, for good or for ill (in earthly terms of success and happiness, at least), they consented to the call of God.  Not all were as dramatic as a Jonah but these prophets did not choose their vocation.  They gave their consent to the call of God.

When Blessed Mary heard the angel's word, she heard a call that she feared as well as did not seek.  She did not choose this call from God.  She consented to the will and purpose of God.  It became more than her duty; it was her delight.  As time unfolded before the wondrous birth, the Lord revealed His purpose and secured her in the grasp of His grace.  When this call left her wounded and grieving before the cross on which her son died, we see that this call and her consent were not merely to a birth but to a way of life.  In the Temple at her purification and the Presentation of our Lord, hint of the cross she would bear because of Jesus was given her.  She did not run but pondered it all in her heart -- perhaps the best euphemism of faith wrestling with the hand and will of God we can give.

Though these are the great examples, the Scriptures are rich with other stories of God's call, of the faithful consent of the people, and the unfolding of His will and design.  Sarah and Abraham also come to mind.  Yet today we tend to think of these more in the realm of choices and decisions than call and consent.  We have choices before us.  We may pray for God to help us make the right choice but we tend not to see these in the context of God's call.

God calls some to marriage and some to celibacy.  These are not rational or reasonable choices we make for ourselves.  Rather we give our consent to God's calling.  Maybe in a world within sin and death the calling would be different.  Of course it would.  Sin has both made us suspicious of God's call and changed the parameters of that call.  But even sin does not silence God's call or remove vocation from the vocabulary of our Christian faith and life.  Chastity has often been seen merely as a choice.  I wonder if it is not better framed as a calling.  This calling does not come to us because we seek it.  It seeks us.  Just as in the marriage rite consent to be wedded is the center of the promise, so in celibacy or a chaste life consent is at the core and center of this calling.  Both vocations have the blessing of God attached to them but in different ways.  Both vocations are noble and virtuous.  Neither of them can (or should) be defined as a choice based on the circumstances of the moment, subject to change, and conditioned upon new choices and options coming down the line.

It is only vocation that makes sense of why some who long to marry find no spouse and why some who burn with desire for children remain childless.  In the midst of our imperfect world, distorted by sin, God intervenes with the call of vocation.  There are many who have gifts and abilities given by God that are not the gifts or abilities they would have chosen for themselves.  It is the great dilemma of our sinful world that we are jealous and covet the gifts and abilities of others over our own.  To disdain our gifts and abilities is also to disdain the calling of God for He works at least in part through these.

In the past the barren were marked as failures.  Today parenthood is more likely to be seen as an irrational sacrifice of self.  We remain confused because we insist upon calling these choices and we refuse to see, even as Christians, the hand of God at work.  So, for example, the homosexual seem to hear nothing but "no" from God and from the Church.  Justice insists that they have the same right to choose as anyone else.  In the midst of all of this we have forgotten.  It is not about a choice, much less a choice between love and intimacy or loneliness and misery.  The chaste life is also a calling and vocation from God.  It is not about what is lost to the chaste but what is gained, not about a choice forced by desire or biology or even choice but consent to a calling.

St. Paul heard the call of God on the Damascus Road.  It came not as a gentle nudge or aha moment but as the end of one life and the beginning of a new life.  He could not choose his life but he did consent to the call of God.  We hear the story of that call several times through the church year.  What we hear is not some unique situation but the how faith come to all -- through the call of God working through the means of grace by the power of the Spirit.  What is equally true is how God calls us to live our lives of faith out in the world.

God does not call the equipped, He equips the called.  Vocation is not a path to avoid dependence upon the mercy of God.  It is the path on which the mercy of God is most essential.

I fear that we have placed an impossible burden upon our children by framing nearly everything in life as merely a matter of choice.  In the end we have also distanced them from the contentment and peace that goes to the hearing of God's call and our consent to His will and purpose.  Without this, life is truly random and subject to chance with God merely an aid for emergencies instead of the vocational director of His people working in all things that which is pleasing to Him and good for us all...

Just a few thoughts. . .

1 comment:

Dr.D said...

When it is God truly calling, the one called will know no peace until that call is answered. I speak from experience here. I received God's call to the public ministry in my early 30's, but I pushed it away for over 30 years. It was only late in life that I finally gave in and responded to that call. It was the best thing I have ever done, and now my biggest regret is that I held it off for so long.

Fr. D+
Anglican Priest