Sunday, September 22, 2013
We All Have an Inconsolable Longing - For Now
In the last post, I said that C.S. Lewis spent a great deal of time thinking about our universal human longing for happiness. One of the greatest and most important things he ever wrote on this subject is a sermon entitled The Weight of Glory. Every Christian should read it. It is one of the most revealing commentaries written in modern times on desire, fulfillment, satisfaction, and what it really means to be created for eternal life in heaven. Here is how Lewis explains our inconsolable longing:
"Now, if we are made for heaven, the desire for our proper place will be already in us, but not yet attached to the true object, and will even appear as the rival of that object. ... In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. ... Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited." (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)
We are always trying in this life to arrive – to get to a place where we feel really fulfilled and do not long for anything else. And that is just what we can’t do. Lewis recognized that because we were not made for this world, we have a natural and inborn longing for something better and deeper that will only be fulfilled in the next world. That doesn't mean we don't get foretastes of joy and happiness and fulfillment in this life. Lewis also recognized that we are given the good pleasures in this world (the music, the beauty, the happy relationships) to whet our appetites for the glories of the next. But this world is temporary, and limited, and we can't experience the fullness of everlasting joy that God has planned for His people in this perishable world. We have to be ready to put it away when the time comes to receive our true inheritance.
In fact, the more we try to be completely satisfied here in this life on earth, the further we put ourselves from complete satisfaction. Our only means of being fully satisfied is to seek with all our hearts to find our satisfaction completely in God, something we will not fully receive until our bodies are renewed and we join Him in eternity. While we are on earth, this experience will become an increasing fulfillment and satisfaction in God if we continue to pursue it. The eternal fountain of absolute joy does overflow into Creation, filling those who embrace Jesus as their Lord and Savior with streams of living water. But we aren't satisfied taking drinks from the overflow of the fountain forever. What we really want is to be plunged into joy endlessly, to never get thirsty again. In the next post, I'll share how Lewis depicted that glorious union.