I have been told that one of the most commendable qualities about me is that I am passionate. As one friend put it to me: “It seems that whatever belief you have about something, you hold it very passionately.” If anything commendable could be said about me, I am glad that people with whom I’ve disagreed and conversed with have felt this way even after conflict. While I do believe that life calls for passionate pursuits, they are all vain without what I call “the fangs of passion”: namely, moral conviction.
I have written elsewhere on the idea that questions of existence (Is there a God? Life after death? etc.) do not entail that we sit on the sidelines and leave these questions to the philosophers and the theologians. Rather, we should treat these questions as existentially relevant and thus be given our immediate attention. However, here I want to submit a rather important sub-point that passion is useless without moral conviction. What does one have to do with the other? If I don’t have moral conviction, does that mean that I’m not passionate?
To the second question, the answer is quite simple: no. However, passion without moral conviction is like the fool who only rectifies his head towards increasing, vainly passions, and not his heart towards the things that might benefit his soul. As English poet Francis Thompson wrote in his famous poem Hound of Heaven,
I feld Him down the nights and down the days.
I fled Him down the arches of the years,
I fled Him down, the labyrinthine ways
of my own mind: And in the mist of tears
I hid from Him, and under running laughter
Up vistaed hopes I sped;
Down titanic glooms of chastened fears
From those strong feet that followed, that followed after
For though I knew His love that followed
Yet I was sore adread
Lest having Him I have naught else beside.
All that I took from thee I did but take
Not for thy harms
But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.
All which thy child’s mistake fancies are lost
I have stored for thee at home:
“Rise, clasp my hand, and come.”
Halts by me that footfall:
is my gloom after all,
shade of His hand, outstretched caressingly.
Ah, fondest, blindest, weakest,
I am he whom thou seekest!
Thou dravest love from thee, that dravest me.
Just what does this poem mean? Francis Thompson was a struggling English poet whose Father tried to get him enrolled into Oxford, but succumbed to a temporary life of drugs. The poem is about a sinner running from a loving God, who is the “Hound of Heaven.” Although the sinner continues to run away through fear of abandoning his worldly pleasures, even being asked to be “covered by the evening,” God still pursues him, saying, “Naught shelters thee, who wilt not shelter Me.”
I really like this poem because I can relate with it so much. In particular, although at certain times in my faith I would fall into sin and even at times try to justify it, it was God who put it in me to see that my indulgence in sin was due to some further, hidden moral reason. However, the gospel “teaches us to say ‘No’ to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope” (Titus 2:12-13). Hence, I would argue and conclude that passion is a truly Christian virtue, since it looks and is patient for “the blessed hope,” and from there flourishes a moral character within the Christian that “make the teaching about God our Savior attractive” (Titus 2:9).