In his classic novel, Of Human Bondage, Somerset Maugham describes how the central character Philip fights off the attraction he feels towards a woman he shouldn't be involved with. Afterwards, his drinking buddy, McAlister, comments:
“You seem to be a contented slave of your passions.”
“A slave because I can’t help myself, but not a contented one,” laughed Philip.
While he spoke he thought of that hot madness which had driven him in pursuit of Mildred. He remembered how he had chafed against it and how he had felt the degradation of it.
“Thank God, I’m free from all that now,” he thought.
And yet even as he said it he was not quite sure whether he spoke it sincerely. When he was under the influence of passion he had felt a singular vigour, and his mind had worked with unwonted force. He was more alive, there was an excitement in sheer being, an eager vehemence of soul, which made life a triffle dull. For all the misery he had endured there was compensation in that sense of rushing, overwhelming existence.
A contented slave of my passions.
That’s me. I tell myself that I really don't want to be involved in the myriad of things that brush up against my heart. But deep down inside, when I'm able to be completely honest with myself (a rare thing for me) I'm not so sure. Am I a contented slave?
Eager vehemence of soul.
Vehemence comes from the old Latin word – vehemens -- to be carried out of one's mind. What drives me to do something as crazy as choose a path of behavior outside of God’s best for my life? Am I helpless against it? When I lie, boast, lust or slander--what is it inside of me and outside of me that makes me feel so alive and degraded at the same time?
Does God understand this? Why is it that for all the misery I endure there is always, as Maugham points out, a compensation in that sense of rushing, overwhelming existence? More important, how can I break free from this dilemma?
Sin in my life is a lot like my front yard. I pull one dandelion up and three more seem to take its place. If I pull three up in the back yard their seeds blow into my front yard and lay dormant until next year. Why, for all my effort and agony, do the same sins keep popping up in my life? Is there anything that can be done?
Unfortunately I have no easy answers for you today. I’m still struggling to find an answer.
I’m tempted to type a quick “Jesus will make this problem go away quietly with three simple steps” kind of answer, but you and I both know that life’s never that simple.
Until then we’ll just have to contentedly and vehemently cling to the one answer we do have: grace.
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