A Question of Orientation
Our primary orientation cannot be to an institution or some great cause or even other people, but first and forever to God. Unless our identity is hid in God we will never know who we are or what we are to do. (John Westerhoff III and John Eusden, from The Spiritual Life)
Orientation is everything. Being a Christian is not primarily about believing certain things about God (remember, the Scriptures say that even the demons believe…and tremble), but about orienting our lives to him “first and forever.” So, what would a life oriented to God look like? It would look exactly like Jesus. Jesus was not particularly interested in social, or political, or even religious issues. He refused to address the primary issue of his time—Roman occupation. When someone asked him about taxes paid to Rome he simply said, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar and to God what is God’s.” Jesus wasn’t side-stepping the issue, he was putting it in the context of being oriented to God first. Jesus also refused to get into a religious argument with the woman at the well. Not because the issue of proper worship didn’t matter, but because it could only be rightly seen only in the context of being rightly oriented to God.
The importance of orientation runs much deeper than our views about the world; it has everything to do with how we understand ourselves, each other, and the purpose of life itself. If we aren’t oriented to God first, then what is our primary orientation? Chances are if we aren’t first oriented to God we get our identity from our family, our school, our race, our job, or our income and class, or some combination of these If we see ourselves in terms of these things, then we see others in these terms too, and then we let these things form our understanding about life. But these things are too small and narrow to do any of us justice.
The real danger of an orientation to something other than God is that it is bound to be something lesser. If our orientation is to class or race we are nothing more than our class or race, our income and skin pigmentation. Even a primary orientation to our families leaves us with a very small and narrow view of the world. From his four encounters with his family in the gospels it was clear that Jesus’ orientation was first and always to his heavenly Father rather than his earthly family. His parents and siblings were trying to retain and constrain him. But Jesus knew that he could only love and serve them rightly by first orienting himself to God. Any orientation other than God will restrain and constrain us, will lessen and diminish us. We were made to know and love God, and to know ourselves beloved and blessed by God—that is the only orientation worthy of living.
Westerhoff and Eusden are right, “unless our identity is hid in God we will never know who we are or what we are to do.” Apart from God we flounder amidst others floundering as badly as we do for meaning and purpose. But, rightly oriented to God, much of what plagues us and many of the things that preoccupy us simply don’t matter that much anymore; we’ve found the answer, or rather we have been found and know it, and can rest in it.
Soli Deo Gloria!