We live in a world that puts a high value on creativity and self-expression. Sociologists even have a term for this mentality, expressive individualism. This is the tendency to see life as something that we each individually need to realize for ourselves. We believe that we are called to express that way of life rather than conform it to models given to us or imposed by others. The goal of life is therefore authenticity rather than living out a tradition or a reasonable point of view. A quick glance at our fascination with actors and musicians will verify our commitment to the expressive way of life.
According to Kierkegaard, that melancholy Danish philosopher, if all we have is self-expression, we would miss something profound about our humanity. Namely, we would lack the realization that we are utterly dependent on God. He writes, “to need God is a human being’s highest perfection.” If this is true, then self-expression without the consciousness of our need will always fall short. This is because we would not know ourselves as we truly are, creatures completely dependant on the omnipotent God every moment.
To need God is a human being’s highest perfection – Soren Kierkegaard
Kierkegaard also points out that this means that apart from God, we can accomplish nothing, whether we actually know this or not. In our world of constant social media expression, I feel the constant need to express myself and win a following. But the truth is that I cannot do this. I can’t make it happen. Even if I do it, I would only be doing it because God sustained my very existence and providentially led me and guided me to do it. That may be the most liberating idea that I have stumbled upon in quite a while. Whatever you are doing with your life, remember that without God and apart from being dependent on him in every way, you cannot do it. If you do it, you did it through God’s grace. It’s just as Christ Jesus said, “apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b).
In our world of constant social media expression, I feel the constant need to express myself and win a following. But the truth is that I cannot do this. I can’t make it happen.
One caveat. What about when we do evil? Is that through God, too? In a way, yes, and in a way, no. It is through God because apart from his sustaining power, we could not act. But I also think that he allows us to choose evil because evil the absence or a privation of the good. Evil is more of a lack of good than a positive substance. Doing good, however, is empowered in some sense by God, while doing evil is God’s allowing us to move away from God, even while we are still sustained by him. It’s a bit like the child who slaps his father even while sitting on his lap.
So remember today that no matter what wonders you accomplish, what beauties you create, what poems or songs your write, what houses you build, that your need of God is your highest perfection. And just like brother Lawrence you will begin to realize his presence even in the midst of your ordinary life. Because apart from him, you can do nothing.