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Ben Carson and God’s Calling

The Weekly Standard’s Fred Barnes, an outstanding political reporter over the decades, writes this in a story about Ben Carson:

“Over the years, there have been many attempts to get me to throw my hat in the political arena,” Carson writes in his new book, One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future.  “I have been offered support from around the country and tremendous financial resources if I decide to run for national office. But I have not felt the call to run.”

Carson writes that he suspects many others interested in high office would be better candidates.  But in his book he has a caveat: “If I felt called by God to officially enter the world of politics, I would certainly not hesitate to do so.”

Interviewed this week, Carson said he’s “starting to feel it.  Because every place I go, it’s unbelievable.”  One lady “really touched me the other night … She just kept clinging to my hand and said, ‘You have to run. You have to run.’  And so many people tell me that, and so I think I’m starting to hear something.”

Dr. Carson, a renowned neurosurgeon, is by all accounts an admirable person and a man of faith. (He was the subject of the movie Gifted Hands.) I have my doubts that he should run for president and I’m certain he won’t be nominated to be president, but for the purposes of this post I want to focus on his theology.

My own view is that to discern the call of God on matters like this requires extraordinary discernment. What makes this even more complicated is that there is a constant temptation among people of faith to take worldly ambitions and place upon them the imprimatur of God; to turn selfish (though not necessarily bad) desires and give to them the patina of holiness and selfless obedience. That at least has been true for me.

Politicians in particular are susceptible to a variation of this, often speaking as if their quest for power is done solely for altruistic reasons. They have a comfortable life they thoroughly enjoy, this narrative goes, but they just happen to be the one person in a nation of 315 million who can right the listing ship of state. Like most of what we do, however, running for public office usually involves a mix of factors, some more admirable than others. Running for president involves both personal sacrifices and personal aggrandizement. The distortion comes by focusing only on the former and never the latter; by pretending it’s always about us (or the will of God) and never about them.

It’s impossible for me to speak dispositively on this subject when it comes to Dr. Carson. But as a general matter, I would caution against confusing the words of enraptured supporters as Vox Dei, of taking ego strokes and making them synonymous with the call of God. Certainly for those of the Christian faith like Dr. Carson, a much more common (and good deal less comfortable) theme is dying to self, the least among us being the greatest, and taking up your cross. The wisest people I know would tend to warn that the adoration of the crowd is a temptation one needs to guard against. Sic transit gloria mundi.

I’m familiar with the parable of the talents and I’m certainly open to the prospect that God can take our gifts and interests and use them for good. My point is that we moderns tend to be somewhat less alert to the dangers of self-deception and (wittingly or not) using faith as a way to disguise our vanity.

The human heart is divided against itself; as a result, most of us are far too quick to ascribe to our less-than-saintly ambitions the full favor of God.



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