Keller & Temple: Your religion is what you do with your solitude

Tim Keller, Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan. Sermon: Discipline of Desire Pt. 2 (mins. 17:35 to 20:01)…

There’s a quote by [Archbishop William Temple] that I’ve used for years. I remember in one of my earliest Gospel sermons I used to use this quote because it was so helpful. [Temple] said: “Your religion is what you do with your solitude.” I had to think about that for about three years before I figured it out.

What does he mean? He says, “When you don’t have to think of anything, when your mind isn’t being taken to think by the environment…” (in other words you’re not at work, there’s nothing that’s taking hold of your mind… when you’re standing on a street corner waiting for someone or you’re in a place where you don’t have anything to think about) “…where does your mind go? What does your mind habitually go to? What do you most like to think about? What do you most enjoy daydreaming about? What gives you the most comfort to fantasize about?” And he says, “That’s your God. Your religion is what you do with your solitude.” It’s a profound statement.

And you see in some of your cases you’re thinking about a person. Maybe a romantic figure; somebody that you’re in love with, or would like to be in love with, or you’d like that person to be in love with you. Maybe you think about your career; what you’re going to do when you’re done with this job, what you’re hoping to get there. Maybe you’re thinking about the house; the dream house you’ve always wanted to build and you’re saving up and hoping you can get… You see what those things are, according to William Temple, those things are God substitutes.

In the most functional way—I know you’ve heard me talk about idolatry—but I’m saying in this case, maybe a little less fundamental than that, there are certain things that are kind of like the sweets. They’re the sugar cookies. They’re the things that when we get “down” we think about to comfort ourselves. And that’s a form of adoration. It’s form of worship. And they are appetite suppressants and if you want to experience God you’ve got to find those pieces of candy you’re popping between meals so that when you sit down with your quiet time you’re just not hungry.

You’ve been comforted thought of this or that success.
You’ve been comforted by the thought of someone saying, “Will you marry me?”
You’re getting comforted by the idea of a peer group finally saying, “You’re really good at this.”
You’re getting comforted by something.

Watch out for those things. What out for the things that are destroying your appetite.

2 thoughts on “Keller & Temple: Your religion is what you do with your solitude

  1. Eloquorius Post author

    Hi, Joseph, thank you for your comment. You make two statements, so I’ll address them separately.

    First, all religions make claims of some sort; the question is the validity of the claims. Some claims are so spiritual that there’s really no way to objectively verify them. And then some religions, especially Christianity (and Judaism which it fulfills) make factual claims in their scriptures. Unlike almost any other religious books (at least of the major religions) the Bible contains as much history as theology because truth claim have to be backed up with, well, truth! If a prophet foretells the fall of a kingdom in a specific way, the prophet is legitimized if he’s correct. Perhaps, over the years, a pundit will get one or two predictions correct. But what impresses even those who read the Bible merely as an ancient historical resource (among other available ancient sources) is both it’s accuracy and, if the reader is honest, the prophetic accuracy as well. But many people who admit the historical accuracy have a hard time with the prophetic accuracy because to accept both is to then accept the two things it represents: historical claims and theological framework through which to view them. The central claim, of course, is the resurrection of Christ. Even the Christian Scriptures admit that “if Christ is not raised” (1 Corinthians 15:17) then we hope in vain. The resurrection is the central event to which Judaism looks forward (the Messiah and new covenant) and around which Christianity is based, so if it didn’t happen then we ought to sell our church properties and party away the money. But if it did happen–as a literal, historic event–then the Christ’s claims demand acceptance. If wish I had room here to recount the physical, circumstantial and other evidences and observations that go into making the case for Christ’s resurrection, but it would be a long comment reply! Suffices to say that I’m a skeptic by nature, my original major was law by my later degree was computer sciences, so I’m pretty analytical and weak arguments don’t go over well with me. After a number of years, I, too, became convinced that the majority evidence (a “preponderance of evidence” as they’d say in court) leans heavily toward the resurrection as a literal historic event with real witnesses. Even the Apostles who ministered for decades after Christ outright challenged the doubters to check with the witness; hundred of them were still living in Jerusalem. The gospel of Luke begins by admitting that it is a product of research with eye witnesses to the events recorded therein.

    Second, you mention that it matters more how we treat people. The reality is that none of us are perfect, of course, and we all have our failings. And that’s the point; we fail. “Ah,” some say, “but we can make up for it!” Really? How is that hope for anyone? For the old, who have little time left to atone for life’s missteps and errors, there is no hope in the idea that the afterlife is based on some wildly subjected standard of how “good” (or not) we lived. For the young, who have more years ahead, even if they do “good” in their life, that only leads to smug self-satisfaction that the Bible calls pride. In all these cases, though, the man or woman is quite obviously the sole judge of their character quality. In other words, without THE God we simply make “gods”; usually ourselves. If there is no God, then making peace with yourself as judge is probably the best you can do. But if there is a God, and God’s will (standards, laws, expectations) can be known, then one would be a fool to shove aside God as judge and instead seat themselves on the judge’s bench to judge themselves.

    I always invite people to look into Christianity. Not “the church” (or any denomination), just Christ, His life, teachings, death, etc. I talk to many people who say something like, “Well, there’s a lot I like, but I have questions/doubts about such-n-such.” Fine! I invite people, including you, to come to Christ with doubts and questions in hand. Even good old St. James said, that if anyone has questions or needs wisdom, “he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (James 1:5) So, even a not-so-good person can draw near to God (which is actually God drawing near to him/her, but that’s another discussion) and God will answer, if the seeker seeks genuinely.

    So, Joseph, the bottom line is: 1. No religion can guarantee anything, unless it’s claims can be verified, and 2.) none of us are a perfect and the message of “be a good person” really isn’t one of hope anyway, it’s only a psychological analgesic with many side effects and no cure for the problem.

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