Sunday, July 5, 2009

Furious longing: Building a new vocabulary for fierce unfettered faith

On the flight out to San Diego a couple of weeks ago, I finally read The Shack by William Young. Just prior, I purchased and started reading Brennan Manning’s The Furious Longing of God, and finished it after arriving in California.

This juxtaposed reading of the books had an interesting effect on my thinking.

I don’t mean to diss The Shack but it wasn’t all that engaging; I’m glad I read it, but I’m not sure what all the hubbub was about. However, one image that did trigger a small epiphany for me was the way Young described the relationship among the Trinity that was comprised of intense, pure, unfiltered love, respect, and acceptance. Seeing this triune relationship played out in the story line was intriguing, and provided fresh insight into God’s nature and love.

This image is actually laced through Manning’s book. But what Manning does is attempt to connect the heavenly with the human and bring to our relationship the same intensity. He does this by using words not typically associated with faith: relentless, boiling, furious, chutzpah, reckless, raging, extreme.

He states early on in the book, “There is no need to mince words. I believe that Christianity happens when men and women experience the reckless, raging confidence that comes from knowing the God of Jesus Christ.”

You and I won’t get there through what he calls the “…assiduous search for shortcuts to holiness.…” Knowing God (in the truly biblical sense) comes through an unconditional acceptance of God’s heart-burning love.

He explains, “The wild, unrestricted love of God is not simply an inspiring idea. When it imposes itself on mind and heart with the stark reality of ontological truth, it determines why and at what time you get up in the morning, how you pass your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, and who you hang with; it affects what breaks your heart, what amazes you, and what makes your heart happy.” [Italics mine.]

I am a Christian. Mentally I give assent to the tepid longing that puddles at the bottom of my soul that I kind of, sort of want to know Him maybe a little bit more. You know, to become a “better” Christian, a nicer guy, a likeable human being with heaven in my future.

But what God wants, and what Jesus wants, and what the Holy Spirit wants is to rip aside all my civilized hesitancy and propriety, and embrace me in a face-to-face, full-body, passionate, holy soul kiss: to become shamelessly one. No holds barred. No holding back.

While, on one hand, that’s a tad scary, on the other, it’s compelling; to be fully, unreservedly embraced by and conjoined with God. Easier said than done.

As Manning points out, “…if we continue to view ourselves as moral lepers and spiritual failures, if our lives are shadowed by low self-esteem, shame, remorse, unhealthy guilt, and self-hatred, we reject the teaching of Jesus and cling to our negative self-image.”

Did you get that? Instead of clinging to the cross of Christ, we make an idol of our negative self-image. It’s an idol that’s all too easily fed. After all, sin is in our skin and holiness is not a natural inclination. As the old hymn states, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.”

Any straining toward God is unavoidably frictioned in this life with the relentless pull of sin. We don’t slide into God’s arms without resistance. Spiritual adultery is an easy gig.

Words are powerful. The language we use to describe ourselves can hold us back or propel us forward. The same is true for how we describe our relationships and our faith. Bold faith and a radical relationship with God needs a better vocabulary. Manning is doing his part in giving us new words, images, and metaphors to propel our faith toward a holy consummation better than safe, sweet, and saccharine spiritual slogans can ever do.

He writes, “Jesus came not only for those who skip morning meditations, but also for real sinners, thieves, adulterers, and terrorists, for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams.”

Sweet words aren’t going to cut it with real sinners. Like me. And you. God’s goal is not to clean us up like a maĆ®tre d’ who slaps a tie over a T-shirt so we can get into that big restaurant in the sky. It’s not about being a good person doing good things for a tolerant god.

“How is it that we’ve come to imagine that Christianity consists primarily in what we do for God?” asks Manning. “The gospel is absurd and the life of Jesus is meaningless unless we believe that He lived, died, and rose again with but one purpose in mind: to make brand-new creations.”

God’s goal is intimate unshackled oneness with his new creations. “Love by its nature seeks union,” states Manning. “Words such as union, fusion, and symbiosis hint at the ineffable oneness with Jesus that the apostle Paul experiences: ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me’ (Gal. 2:20). No human word is even remotely adequate to convey the mysterious and furious longing of Jesus for you and me to live in His smile and hang in His words. But union comes close, very close; it is a word pregnant with a reality that surpasses understanding, the only reality worth yearning for with love and patience, the only reality before which we should stay very quiet.”

Yes, looking into the furious longing of God is intimidating. But Manning reassures saying, “It is natural to feel fear and insecurity when confronted with the radical demands of the Christian commitment. But enveloped in the truth of God’s furious love, insecurity is swallowed up in the solidity of agape, and anguish and fear give way to hope and desire.”

God is Love. As John writes, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”

It’s time to throw out our nice expressions of a sweet faith. Real faith tends to get dirty and gritty. Wrestling with the devil’s soul-killing guile and deceit can be bloody battle. We need stronger, better language that will fire our minds and hearts with an unquenchable, jealously passionate, bear-hugging love and longing for God.

Manning is a good 21st century source for new terms, but John Donne preceded him by a few hundred years when he wrote in the 17th century:

Batter my heart, three person'd God; for, you
As yet but knocke, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o'erthrow mee,'and bend
Your force, to breake, blow, burn and make me new.
I, like an usurpt towne, to'another due,
Labour to'admit you, but Oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in mee, mee should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weake or untrue.
Yet dearley'I love you,'and would be loved faine,
But am betroth'd unto your enemie:
Divorce mee,'untie, or breake that knot againe,
Take mee to you, imprison mee, for I
Except you'enthrall mee, never shall be free,
Nor ever chast, except you ravish mee.

The furious longing of God isn’t about holding hands and walking in the moonlight making goo-goo eyes, or a romantic stroll in the garden while the dew is still on the roses. The love of God is not a romantic school-boy crush.

It is consuming, hungering, desiring, lusting, craving, embracing, unrestrained, arduous, fervent, gripping, energetic, fierce, compelling, and so much more.

I’m wondering if I’m man enough to allow His love to truly “ravish” me. I hope so. I really hope so.

FYI: Brennan Manning passed away 4/12/13. Click here to read more from Christianity Today.

How are you longing or not longing for God?



  1. The title of that book reminds me of some lyrics from a Rich Mullins song (of whom I am a huge fan:

    There's a wideness in God's mercy
    I cannot find in my own
    And He keeps His fire burning
    To melt this heart of stone
    Keeps me aching with a yearning
    Keeps me glad to have been caught
    In the reckless raging fury
    That they call the love of God

    And then I made the connection between the author of the book and Rich. Manning's Ragamuffin Gospel really inspired Mullins, and Manning wrote the forward to Rich's Biography, An Arrow Pointing to Heaven (great book, by the way).

    For me, personally, despite being an actual follower of Jesus for the past 9 years, I still have a hard time believing the depth of God's love for me. For everyone else, wholeheartedly. For me? I wish I could get a handle on it.

    1. I don't know that we can ever fully get a handle on it!


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