I tried to reason my way to security about salvation. Then I found lurking in my panting desperation something like the drive to avoid pain (hell) and attain pleasure (heaven). Thought of as external destinations at the end of my time it just began to feel like an extension of the earthly concerns I am already full of (animal (feral-pig like) self-preservation).
I decided the avoidance of pain and the pursuit of pleasure could not serve as useful or good guides to my choices unless the content of pleasure and pain were interrogated. I decided the goal was righteousness, holiness, perfection. It took time to begin to want it more than the attaining of gold or the avoidance of fire. But I made some progress in the transformation of the content of pleasure and pain. The sage Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” It is an interesting statement to meditate on: what does it take to begin to desperately need for survival righteousness more than sugar, sex or security. I can at least recommend what NOT to do: don’t wait for desire to transform on its own. It is yours. Do with it what you will, but I have said nothing about the time required for desire transformation.
After some time aiming at purity of heart I found my aiming (Kantian good will) was at best inadequate. I am a rollercoaster of aiming. Call the aiming faith to put it in well-known contemporary (and ancient) terminology. If faith is the way, and mine is at best inadequate, I was left again with the question of whether I would be deemed good-enough by the divine should the divine exist and care. The panting feral pig in me hopes the divine both exists and cares.
So, I had to decide what to do about this hankering worry that I might not make the cut. Here is what I did: I told the hypothetically-existing-divine that I would aim, and I tried in my finitude to take the promise seriously– “let your yes be yes and your no be no”, but I know it was likely inadequate. I told the divine that I would aim regardless of whether the divine deemed it worthy. The worthiness was up to the divine. I leave it with the divine. This takes trust. My sense is that righteousness (virtue) is good and valuable and worth it NOW regardless of the future judgement of the divinity. And I trust that divinity (should it exist) to choose well. What more can I do?
Of course there is temptation for the worry to re-emerge. I have not found it possible to disengage fully from the panting feral pig in me. But I have learned how to handle the lurking temptation to worry about the future. It is to be at least ignored, and at best sent away. Attention is food to temptation. There is a freedom in my growing (and I by no means represent myself as finished but I will boldly claim to be aiming and changing) hunger and thirst for righteousness and virtue. And it is not tied to reward or punishment. In my better moments I want it for itself and for no ulterior reason.
To Christianize this message one would want to substitute “Jesus” in the above for “righeousness”, “virtue” or “holiness”. I do not care to play with such English words. I am only interested in what they refer to. If all four of the above words point at the same object than fine. I doubt whether the divine cares which of them I use to point. But that I point and aim is everything…
If you are troubled by the last paragraph: what is Jesus beyond righteousness/perfection to you? If equivalent, in your mind, to righteousness or perfection, what mind you whether I use one word or the other? “Jesus” or “righteousness”? Will I somehow be misguided by aiming at righteousness? What of the native of some foreign land who has never heard the name “Jesus” but aims at righteousness? Does he not aim at the same as the one who has heard the name Jesus if both aims are sincere? What counts against the aiming of the one and for the aiming of the other? I count either brothers if they will have me. Members of the same family. The oldest brother is virtue, righteousness, the human ideal. Some call it the logos of the divine (Gospel of John).