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The Sense of Being Sought by "Another"

    One is not likely to describe easily or reliably the underlying motivations that have led him to the religious life. It is too easy to read back into past situations and experiences what one sees very clearly at the present time. Somehow it seems that there never was a time when I was not religious, though there certainly have been times when I have felt strong revulsions against certain forms of religious behavior and practice. One thing that has frequently been present is the desire to see and know myself as I really am. Another has been the longing to achieve serenity and inner integrity where there was much that was chaotic and broken. More important has been the urgency of a moral imperative which through the years has come insistently and persistently to place life under radical tensions.

    But in looking over my past experience, I cannot resist the conviction that it has not been primarily my seeking and searching that has been important, but rather the awareness of being sought and found by Another. It is possible that I am reading certain present attitudes into my past; somehow or other the thought that a purposive, personal, active Reality has gone forth to meet me tends to dominate my thoughts more and more. In my best moments it is most natural to think of a Living God who has "invaded" the chaos and confusion of life to give it strength and vitality and hope It is He who 'fashions' and 'creates' and 'finds,' and thus gives existence. It is He who 'speaks' and reveals His will, and sets life before its imperative. The sense of moral obligation is His commanding, and my response is the will to obey or disobey.

    The language of the Bible seems to express my own experience best of all. Moses' characteristic responses to the divine impulsions, Elijah's forlorness before the mountain cave, Amos' encounter with Amaziah the priest, Isaiah's dilemma in a national crisis, Jeremiah in the presence of the collapse of his world, Second Isaiah's sense of mission, Jesus' vision as He comes out of the baptismal waters--these situations have an authenticity about them which seems not merely personally convincing but almost universally recognizable. And I suppose that the influence of the Bible as a Scripture wrought from the heart of the world's life has accounted largely for many of my attitudes and the forms in which experience has been clothed. But paralleled with the appreciation of the Bible has come some understanding and appreciation of history, first of all the history of the Semitic East, but also the history of our own modern times.

    But whatever the underlying psychological forces that have been at play, for me religion has simply been a necessity. Indeed, it has been the only real possibility. Other ways seem to have led to dead ends. In the only kind of world I have ever known, and in the kind of world that historical records reveal to me, relative loyalties are not enough. Hebrew Christian faith places life in a context of dynamic meaning and cosmic support; it kindles living by placing it under absolute commands which are adequately expressed in the Old and New Testaments; it provides a goal in the fullness and richness of its conception of the Sovereign Rule of God.

    James Muilenburg, 1896-1974. American theologian.
    Written for The Choice is Always Ours.