We have not taken to preaching because we are deluded, or immoral, or trying to deceive anyone; it was God who decided that we were fit to be entrusted with the Good News, and when we are speaking we are not trying to please men but God, who can read our inmost thoughts.
1 Thessalonians 2: 3-4
Why do we do what we do? In today’s reading from 1 Thessalonians, we hear Paul speaking of the motivation behind his preaching. He mentions some of the most obvious selfish reasons one might “preach” to others: delusion, immorality, deception, self-aggrandizement. In the truth of our own experience there is almost always a certain level of impure motivation in everything we do. We do our work for the sake of making a contribution, but there is almost always a level of personal ambition and self-promotion involved. We love another because of our devotion to their well-being and personal unfolding, but we also are hoping, to varying degrees, that we may become uniquely “special” in their lives. We attempt “to know, love, and serve God” because that is what we live for, but also to fulfill our need for meaning and hope for ultimate security. As Paul we hear Paul remind us that it is “God who can read our inmost thoughts,” we experience the ambiguity and tension that is part of everything we choose and do as human persons. It is very unusual for human beings to act with absolute purity of heart and mind.
Meister Eckhart teaches: “God expects but one thing of you, and that is that you should come out of yourself in so far as you are a created being and let God be God in you.” Fortunately and by God’s grace, we know moments when, as Soren Kierkegaard says, we “will one thing.” At this moment we know the experience Paul is describing of not trying, in any way, “to please men but God.” This is not a moment of willfulness whereby we attain purity of heart by a strained human effort, nor a moment of will-lessness whereby we have become totally passive. It is rather a moment of willingness where we “let God be God” in us.
The practice of willingness involves, in part, growing awareness, and acceptance, of the nature and reality of our mixed motivation. It requires us to see ourselves for who and what we are, not in self-depreciation and guilt, but in simple and humble awareness. Such an awareness no doubt includes a sense of humor, the ability to smile at how, so long after learning how fruitless it is, we are still trying to make something of ourselves by “trying to please” others, which includes other human persons and God.
What we truly seek is the life where “God is God” in us. Every form of self-creation is but an obstacle to that life. At a point, Paul comes to realize that when he is truly living out his call, he preaches for no reason of his but rather because “God decided we were fit to be entrusted with the Good News.” It is in being an instrument of God’s action that we know our share in “the life to the full” that Jesus promises.
It is not the self that the religious person seeks, but what is revealed in and through that self. Even those Indian mystics who speak exclusively about the self, the Atman, do not refer to a self-conscious subject, but to a deeper reality in which thinking and being are one. Hence being itself becomes conscious, and consciousness becomes being. The substance of the soul which God “touches” is clearly more than the individual self of which I am fully conscious. In one sense the paradox of the Mandukhya Upanishad is literally true; it is a state of consciousness that lies beyond dreamless sleep. Buddhism shows a similar concern in emphasizing the need for overcoming individual personhood. From a religious viewpoint the individual self is not an ultimate. The soul is called to move beyond self-consciousness in that deeper realm upon which individual selfhood rests.
Louis Dupre, The Deeper Life, p. 29