Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Triumph of Spiritual Poverty

“The way to deeper knowledge of God is through lonely valleys of soul poverty and abnegation of all things.”[1]

This is a nauseating theology to the very nature of humanity, and particularly to us, Twenty-first Century people used to getting exactly what we want, when we want it. Our free will carries us to a place where possessions are critically paramount, and if it’s not material possessions it’s our time, space and energy that’s saved up for only ourselves to squander, on—you guessed it—ourselves, of course.

None of us really like this but there is an indelible spiritual principle in abject lack.

Like Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac, the principle involves offering up those things on the temple of our hearts—those to the exclusion of God—back to him who started it all.

The maddening thing is we pirouette through life thinking our grappling at things and non-things will give us happiness, but happiness like that never quite happens. We always seek more. Too much is never enough. We’re all so used to trying that “theology.”


“There is the sweet theology of the heart which can be learned only in the school of renunciation.”[2]

The minor prophet, Tozer, goes onto to say that textbooks on systematic theology scantly overlook this important issue but he observes the wise don’t. The wise taste lack and decide for it—tasting what is true, because it’s the only true way to God and hence the only true way to an abiding joy far removed from possessing just about all things. And the beauty of this rich theology is we only have to taste it once and we’re appropriately hooked.

This answers once and for all the aberrant seeking of the cars, homes, boats, latest electronic gadgetry etc. But, realistically, there are billions of things and non-things that are sought well before God truly is.

“And if we are set upon the pursuit of God He will sooner or later bring us to the test.”[3]

Any near-mature Christian will know this. They will have been tested, and indeed they’ll continue to be tested. God tests us not to deprive us, but to take us on in our journey with him—well unto real maturity and real joy and real spiritual sense.

What is it that we hold fast to in this life? Be it a material thing or a notion of life, or even an out-of-balance commitment to anything—even to a supposed eccentric commitment to God himself—these will be stripped from us, if we’ll only surrender them. God’s thoughts on the subject require emptiness, of us.

God is amazingly consistent about all of this. His testing is incisively directed at the very heart of the issues that possess us. And there are ironies upon ironies here. We can even be basically fully devoted to God—highly developed and spiritually mature—and then he will still require us, possibly more than ever, set apart only to him. He is, after all, “living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; [his Spirit] is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12 NRSV)

The less we actually have and the less we choose to take in life, the more we actually get. God gets the self-righteous and religious people back every time in this. Their own grappling becomes their ruin, whereas the spiritually poor person always gets a leg up.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

—Matthew 5:3 (NRSV).

It’s the paradoxical way of true wisdom. It’s the triumph of spiritual poverty—to bring nothing to God (and have nothing before God), only to receive—always.

© 2010 S. J. Wickham.

[1] A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God (New Jersey: Spire Books, 1948), p. 23.

[2] Tozer, Ibid, p. 27.

[3] Tozer, Ibid, p. 30.

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