“Man draws nearer to God in proportion as he withdraws farther from all earthly comfort,” writes Thomas à Kempis. Yet the full calling of the Scriptures, and à Kempis’ work, isn’t to disregard comforts, but to reorient them in light of the gospel.
We’ve looked this week at à Kempis’ calling, in The Imitation Of Christ, for the faithful to confess both our idolatrous love for the world and our inability to weather even the smallest daily frustrations. Today the argument goes further: repent of the ways we avoid the risks of faith in God by grasping for control and power in relationships.
Relationships, in other words, provide deep earthly comfort. We are called to give ourselves to others—yet we cannot demand from them what ought only be supplied from God. Here, written as a letter from Christ to his children, à Kempis challenges us:
My child, if you place your peace in any creature because of your own feeling or for the sake of his company, you will be unsettled and entangled. But if you have recourse to the ever-living and abiding Truth, you will not grieve if a friend should die or forsake you. Your love for your friend should be grounded in Me, and for My sake you should love whoever seems to be good and is very dear to you in this life. Without Me friendship has no strength and cannot endure. Love which I do not bind is neither true nor pure.
You ought, therefore, to be so dead to such human affections as to wish as far as lies within you to be without the fellowship of men. Man draws nearer to God in proportion as he withdraws farther from all earthly comfort. And he ascends higher to God as he descends lower into himself and grows more vile in his own eyes. He who attributes any good to himself hinders God’s grace from coming into his heart, for the grace of the Holy Spirit seeks always the humble heart.
If you knew how to annihilate yourself completely and empty yourself of all created love, then I should overflow in you with great grace. When you look to creatures, the sight of the Creator is taken from you. Learn, therefore, to conquer yourself in all things for the sake of your Maker. Then will you be able to attain to divine knowledge. But anything, no matter how small, that is loved and regarded inordinately keeps you back from the highest good and corrupts the soul.