Last week, I suggested that the idea of following one’s heart is fundamental to a Christian eschatology and that we shouldn’t just dismiss it as antithetical to our Christian beliefs. Of course, like all good and true things, such a view requires nuance. The key nuance I want to suggest (admittedly stealing again from NT Wright here) is character.
It was somewhat ironic that I used a quotation from Wright’s book After You Believe to anchor last week’s post because, in fact, his book is primarily concerned with exploring the cultivation of character, particularly by means of virtue. He seeks to explore a way of considering the Christian life that lies between a call to absolute authenticity and following one’s desires on the one hand and the legalism that pervades far too many Christian minds on the other.
Virtue acts as a balancing weight to the idea of following one’s heart. Indeed, being attune and pursuing the heart’s desires only makes sense insofar as those desires are bounded in some significant ways. Of course the boundaries here are not, in fact, about repressing desires, but about opening the heart to recognize what it means for us to be fully human. As we are initiated into this way of life, yes, boundaries need to be erected, but ultimately such boundaries lead us to greater freedom (think sheep who are kept in one place by a fence and thus can come under the protection of the shepherd, allowing them to live full sheep-lives, instead of being wolf-food).
When we talk about virtue, however, we must be careful to remember that it is not merely our own interpretation of what is virtuous. Obviously, this would raise a number of problems. For example, I am far too inclined to consider that it is a virtue (of the highest order) to eat a whole plate of brownies in one sitting. This is a problem – for both my physical body and my soul. Rather, our understanding of virtue is informed by a number of practices that make up the Christian life – the Bible, prayer, the counsel of fellow believers, etc. I suspect that probably all three of those would lead me to consider consuming a whole plate of brownies in one sitting as vicious rather than virtuous (although I might be able to find some fellow believers who would be on my side!).
So yes, following your heart remains a fundamentally Christian idea. But it is the end to which we are being redeemed. In the meantime, our heart is expanded by living life in unity with fellow believers and the wisdom of Scripture, leading us into an increasingly virtuous life.
One of the best parts of our Christian journey is when we discover that the desires of our heart and the virtues we are living out are becoming synonymous – this is abiding in Christ, the hope of glory!