Have you ever stumbled on an old book and delighted in your discovery? During my research on vocations, I found a quote from Frederick Buechner (born 1926) that appeared in many books: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” These few words incapsulate the essence of vocation. I decided to investigate the author of such sage words.
Frederick Buechner is an acclaimed American writer, poet, teacher, and theologian. He understood suffering at a young age as his father committed suicide when he was 10 and his family moved to Bermuda to forget this tragic event. He was exceptionally bright and graduated from Princeton University with an English degree. His first book was published in 1950; he was destined to become a great writer but sidetracked his writing career to attend Union Theological Seminary after hearing a sermon that deeply impacted him. Instead of going into parish ministry, he taught religion and English at Exeter and later resumed his writing career. He was honored with many awards, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1981, and has lived a worthy life.
The vocation quote above was taken from his book Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (HarperSanFrancisco, New York, NY, 1973). This small book contains only 100 pages, simply lists theological terms, and defines them with tidbits of humor and sensical reasoning. There are so many jewels in this short publication! I will first quote Buechner’s entire definition of vocation:
It comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a man is called to by God.
There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest.
By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that that the world most needs to have done. If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.
Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. [italics added] (page 95)
When I was struggling in my theology class with why there is suffering in the world, I came away unsatisfied. My theology professor stated that suffering was an unreconciled theological problem. Buechner agrees under his definition of evil:
- God is all-powerful.
- God is all-good.
- Terrible things happen.
You can reconcile any two of these propositions with each other, but you can’t reconcile all three. The problem of evil is perhaps the greatest single problem for religious faith. …
Christianity, on the other hand, ultimately offers no theoretical solution at all. It merely points to the cross and says that, practically speaking, there is no evil so dark and so obscene – not even this – but that God can turn it to good. (page 24)
We can find great truths from those who have gone before us and left our world with treasures to ponder. Scripture is constantly revealing truths for our modern civilization after more than 2000 years since being first written. New fads come and go but great writings refresh generation after generation. Frederick Buechner is one of those masters of the written word. I leave you with one last definition: principles.
Principles are what people have instead of God.
To be a Christian means among other things to be willing if necessary to sacrifice even your highest principles for God’s or your neighbor’s sake the way a Christian pacifist must be willing to pick up a baseball bat if there’s no other way to stop a man from savagely beating a child.
Jesus didn’t forgive his executioners on principle but because in some unimaginable way he was able to love them.
‘Principle’ is an even duller word than ‘Religion.’ (page 73)