Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Os Guiness

Chinese-born American Author, Social Critic and Senior Fellow with the EastWest Institute in New York

"A sense of purpose and fulfillment is the single strongest issue flowing out of the quest for meaning… The end of the quest for meaning is the beginning of the journey of faith. Indeed, nothing better illuminates the entire journey of life and faith, and in particular the special challenge of finishing them well, than the issue of purpose."

"All are searching for a goal, but for the seeker, the openness to grow and change is a precondition for the successful discovery."

"Are you leading an examined life? Or are you living in the hand-me-down ideas of others? Do you pick up the music coming from dimensions beyond the here and now? Or are you one of those who just don’t get it? Let your mind and your heart run deep. Come, join the seeker’s path on the long journey home."

"Belief in something doesn’t make it true; only truth makes a belief true."

"Are you open to the full interrogation of life? Or are you close to the search because you believe what you’ve always believed without question? Have you pondered the logic of your experiences and dared to follow the direction of their limits and promptings?"

"For the seeker, contrast is the mother of clarity."

"If anything in the four gospels is clear, it’s that Jesus himself was on a search. He was seeking all who are out of touch with his father."

"Do you have the courage of your desires, or have you always considered your yearnings as idle and unproductive? Do you feel the wonder of existence, your own and that of everything? Does it truly do justice to that wonder to see it as an illusion or as a product of chance?"

"Does your calculus of success include the bottom line of death, or are you mortgaging your future for the immediate and the short term? Have you been tranquilized by the trivial, or does your sense of life grow from a close attention to reality and time?"

"It’s often said that there are three requirements for a fulfilling life. The first two – a clear sense of personal identity and a strong sense of personal mission – are rooted in the third: a deep sense of life’s meaning. In our time especially, many people are spurred to search for that meaning because they’re haunted by having too much to live with and too little to live for"

"There’s a moment when the choice to act moves beyond a discussion of motives, for even an awareness of our own motives can become a form of necessity that lets our responsibility off the hook. And the moment of faith is a moment when no part of us is excused. With no ifs, no buts, no conditions, no escape clauses, all we are is challenged to rise to the choice and shoulder the responsibility for our answer."

"Too much to live with, too little to live for… In our own day this question of life purpose is more urgent than ever. Three factors have converged to fuel a search for significance without precedent in human history. First, the search for the purpose of life is one of the deepest issues of our experiences as human beings. Second, the expectation that we can all live purposeful lives has been given a gigantic boost by modern society’s offer of the maximum opportunity for choice and change in all we do. Third, our fulfillment is thwarted by this stunning fact: Out of more than a score of great civilizations in human history, modern Western civilization is the very first to have a no agreed-on answer to the question of the purpose of life… Most of us in the midst of material plenty, have spiritual poverty."

"Our passion is to know we’re fulfilling the purpose for which we’re here on earth. We all desire to make a difference. We long to leave a legacy. We yearn, as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “to leave the world a bit better.”"

"Life is a journey, a voyage, a quest, a pilgrimage, a personal odyssey, and we’re all at some unknown point between the beginning and the end of it… The humanness of life as a journey is something we should all care enough about to seek to make sense of it and to make up our minds for ourselves."

"Speculating will not do. It takes the forward movement of deliberate, dynamic living to make this journey – especially the longest and most important journey of all, the journey from our heads to our hearts and from our hearts to our wills. If the journey is life, then only through living will truths gain force that are otherwise barren platitudes."

"The decisive part of our seeking is not our human ascent to God, but his descent to us. Without God’s descent there is no human ascent. The secret of the quest lies not in our brilliance but in His grace. What puts us on the way is not the daring and ingenuity of our discovery of paths, but the disclosure of the one who has preceded us on all our paths."

"Seekers disbelieve what they believed before because of new questions their previous beliefs couldn’t answer."

"The first stage in every seeker’s journey – a time for questions. We become aware of a sense of reaching out that forces us to ask where we are in life. We must find meaning beyond the meaning we know."

"There is only the nobility of the compassion of the enlightened on their road to the “liberation” of extinction."

"The seeker after truth, however, is not a conqueror but a supplicant. Because there’s no one easier to deceive than ourselves, and no bigger credibility gap than that between our truth seeking and our truth twisting, our only path to truth (and its resultant freedom) is to be transformed by it rather than trying to conquer it… We must conform to truth –or, more accurately, become captive to it. Ultimately the question for each of us is not how thoroughly we’ve searched for the truth but how searchingly the truth has examined us."

"When it is said and done, life’s journey isn’t about humanity in general, or even the person next door. It’s about you and me. Our individual lives are the focus, a picture framed by our birth and death. Our personal goals and principles are under scrutiny; our personal success or failure is in the balance."

"Interestingly, God's remedy for Elijah's depression was not a refresher course in theology but food and sleep... Before God spoke to him at all, Elijah was fed twice and given a good chance to sleep. Only then, and very gently, did God confront him with his error. This is always God's way. Having made us as human beings, He respects our humanness and treats us with integrity. That is, He treats us true to the truth of who we are. It is human beings and not God who have made spirituality impractical."

"Mastering our emotions has nothing to do with asceticism or repression, for the purpose is not to break the emotions or deny them but to "break in" the emotions, making them teachable because they are tamed."

"The question the doubter does not ask is whether faith was really useless or simply not used. What would you think of a boy who gave up learning to ride a bicycle, complaining that he hurt himself because his bicycle stopped moving so he had no choice but to fall off? If he wanted to sit comfortably while remaining stationary, he should not have chosen a bicycle but a chair. Similarly faith must be put to use, or it will become useless."

"What has happened to create this doubt is that a problem (such as a deep conflict or a bad experience) has been allowed to usurp God's place and become the controlling principle of life. Instead of viewing the problem from the vantage point of faith, the doubter views faith from the vantage point of the problem. Instead of faith sizing up the problem, the situation ends with the problem scaling down faith. The world of faith is upside down, and in the topsy-turvy reality of doubt, a problem has become god and God has become a problem."

"To come to faith on the basis of experience alone is unwise, though not so foolish as to reject faith altogether because of lack of experience."

"To believe in God is to "let God be God." This is the chief business of faith. As we believe we are allowing God to be in our lives what He already is in Himself. In trusting God, we are living out our assumptions, putting into practice all that we say He is in theory so that who God is and what He has done can make the difference in every part of our lives. This means that the accuracy of our pictures of God is not tested by our orthodoxy or our testimonies but by the truths we count on in real life. It is demonstrated when the heat is on, the chips are down, and reality seems to be breathing down our necks. What we presuppose at such moments is our real picture of God, and this may be very different from what we profess to believe about God."

"Without a feel for the social dimension of believing, the church is like a person paralyzed from the neck down – quite insensible to the further damage being inflicted on her."

"Anti-intellectualism is a disposition to discount the importance of truth and the life of the mind. Living in a sensuous culture and an increasingly emotional democracy, American evangelicals in the last generation have simultaneously toned up their bodies and dumbed down their minds. The result? Many suffer from a modern form of what the ancient stoics called “mental hedonism”-having fit bodies but fat minds."

"All of today's preachers of freedom, from the presidents down, should ponder what their founders built knowingly into the foundations. The ultimate test of freedom is not the economy or the military, but time. Freedom's ultimate trial is mortality, and the essence of mortality is flawed human nature."

"America must strongly and determinedly restore civic education, an education that is truly liberal education, or an education for liberty. Conservatives must get over their shortsighted aversion to the L word, and liberals must re-explore what liberal education really means and why it matters. Second, America must strongly and determinedly rebuild its civil public square, leading to a profound resolution of the current culture warring and a re-opening of public life to people of all faiths and none, so that all citizens are able to play their part in a thriving civil society and robust democracy. Third, America must strongly and determinedly reorder the grand spheres that make up American society and its powerful cultural influence in the world. A key feature of the modern world is differentiation... These three restorations-the renewal of civic education, the restoration of a civil public square, and the re-ordering of the different spheres to serve the common good---must be accompanied by a fourth---restoration of the integrity and credibility of the faiths and ethics of the citizenry."

"American democracy in the past has always been known for its large middle class and its relatively few very wealthy people and very few very poor people, but that is gone to today and the middle class is shrinking."

"Any contradiction between our callings and our careers condemns us to be square pegs in round holes."

"As I understand the American Founders, the most brilliant and daring idea they had was that it's possible to create a free society that could stay free forever."

"At that point the creed becomes a way of saying what the infidel next door believes, too."

"Augustine says that you don't understand a nation by the throw weight of its military or the strength of its research universities or the size of its population, but by looking at what it loves in common. To assess a nation, you look at the health and strength of its ideals. And there's no question that the common love in America is freedom."

"Calling is the truth that God calls us to himself so decisively that everything we are, everything we do, and everything we have is invested with a special devotion and dynamism lived out as a response to his summons and service."

"By denying the distinction between clergy and laity, populism refused to defer to theology or theological training... Above all, populism rejected leadership and put a boundless trust in the common person. The result was a populist style of interpretation in which the right to personal judgment became "the Magna Carta of the common man." Under the rallying cry "No creed but the Bible," each man or woman became his or her own interpreter... This old theme has not faded away. It can be heard, for instance, in the mega-church dismissal of seminary training for pastors."

"Beyond any question, the way the American founders consistently linked faith and freedom, republicanism and religion, was not only deliberate and thoughtful, it was also surprising and anything but routine."

"Christianity is the only religion whose God bears the scars of evil."

"Calling resists privatization by insisting on the totality of faith. Calling resists politicization by demanding a tension with every human allegiance and association. Calling resists polarization by requiring an attitude toward, and action in, society that is inevitably transforming because it is constantly engaged. Grand Christian movements will rise and fall. Grand campaigns will be mounted and grand coalitions assembled. But all together such coordinated efforts will never match the influence of untold numbers of followers of Christ living out their callings faithfully across the vastness and complexity of modern society."

"Culturally, one of the best arguments we can make is, wait and see."

"Do what you are: God normally call us along the line of our giftedness, but the purpose of giftedness is stewardship and service, not selfishness."

"Dietrich Bonhoeffer's reaction to pietism was unquestionably rooted in the personal. As a Prussian and an aristocrat, he did not believe in talking his faith to death. He abhorred the shameless religious clich‚s and the quick and easy manner of reporting conversion experiences."

"Every human being needs a sense of meaning and belonging."

"Have you concluded that your desire for purpose is an illusion? Then follow the Eastern masters to their various states of detachment. Have you determined that your purpose is something that you must figure out yourself and accomplish all on your own? There are many secularist thinkers to cheer you on in the attempt. Or are you open to the possibility that there is one who created you to be who you are and calls you to be who he alone knows you can be?"

"I give lectures on globalization. I have lived on three continents. I have no quarrel with a global consciousness."

"Freud and many Freudians... say all belief is a matter of projection, wish-fulfilment and so on. People have needs and they believe? He got the logic wrong. When people become seekers it's not that they believe ? no, they're seeking but the logic is that they disbelieve what they used to believe because it no longer answers the questions that they now have."

"I think the deepest issue in America is the crisis of freedom. I'm a strong believer in St. Augustine's idea that you judge a nation by what it loves supremely. And there's no question that, over many centuries, what Americans love supremely is freedom. So I think you can judge the health of a nation by the health of freedoms today."

"I have lived under totalitarian Communism, so I prize freedom as much as anyone and have long fought for freedom of conscience and speech."