The chief goal of humankind can be summed-up in a search for two things: to be eternally loved and eternally happy. The ultimate purpose of religion, philosophy, and utopian ideals is the grandiose promise to achieve this end.
It is not only religion, philosophy, and utopian ideals which try and bring us love and happiness, for while they center on moral ideals, other suitors call upon us to seduce us with their solution. The love of money, the love of self, and licentious “viva la vida” living provide a tempting alternative to the strict, legalistic code of conduct that the “good side” preaches.
When the Prodigal Son of Luke 15 sat in the mud, tending to pigs, and smelling their stench, it says he “…was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything” (Luke 15:16, ESV). It is truly a sorry, pitiful, and even revolting scene that Christ paints. The son of a rich and loving father is sitting in a slow-moving pit of mud, longing to eat the food of the most abhorred animal in Jewish culture. It wasn’t enough to desire to eat some pork, or even to feed them, but the loathsome idea that he would rather eat their food than return home. His desire was to eat food was good, but how and where he searched for it was nonsensical and futile.
Well did Isaiah call “flowers” such illusions of finding satisfaction away apart from God:
All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. (Isa 40:6-7)
Our days are numbered, as is the grass of the field, and our great projects and ideas to achieve these goals are but a beautiful flower that will soon turn into an ugly, shriveled stalk.
Here we arrive at the point: The longing to be eternally loved and eternally happy is a truly good, Godly desire. The way we go about seeking to satisfy this craving is where we err.
Augustine championed this thought by him being a living testimony of one saved out of his licentious lifestyle and becoming a true follower of Christ and a beacon of hope to all who were lost. In his famed Confessions, he details his sins and the blackness of his heart before finding grace and hope in Christ, recognizing that a pursuit of love and happiness apart from God is futile. In the very first page of his autobiography he powerfully states:
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
Elsewhere Augustine also states that “Sin is looking for the right thing in the wrong place.” He was a witness to his failed attempts to find ultimate fulfillment in life, having tried so many forms of religion, philosophy, and licentious living. He was a living “Prodigal Son” in many ways (just ask his mom!).
Augustine admitted that while he had been looking feverishly for truth the whole time, he had rejected the possibility that it might be found in the Truth, Christ Himself, instead calling Christianity a myth and the Word of God ancient and useless. Eventually he was confronted with the fact that what he had always been looking for was staring him in the face, that only His Maker could satisfy his greatest longing. It is important to note that it was only when the Prodigal Son recognized his stubborn stupidity was he able to reconcile the fact that the father which he once hated was the only one who could cure his plight.
I remember being heavily impacted by this quote on our restless hearts when I first found it in the Confessions, and to this day it remains dear to me, powerfully reminding me to find my satisfaction in God, not in any other alternative.
There is one thing I must admit though, that I did not understand Augustine fully at the beginning. I wondered if Augustine had truly found rest in this life – pure, full, unwavering rest. How did he achieve such perfect satisfaction in God? I asked because I knew I didn’t have such rest and satisfaction. Here was a son of a missionary, studying Theology at a Bible College, and I did not have rest, I did not feel satisfied. That reality has not changed, not because I am far from God, but because I cannot truly achieve it yet, and none of us can.
Then one day it dawned upon me: the word “until they rest in you”. The Word of God points me to the place where I can find perfect rest, but I cannot experience it fully until I have left this life. Surely Christ does promise us peace in trials, the joy of knowing we are loved, yet we are also promised trials, we are promised a lifelong battle with sin, and we are prone to perhaps more failings as victories.
C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity makes a fabulous point on this important topic:
If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
There it is again, the present experience of “I find in myself”, leading us to understand that what we long for must remain a longing until it is fulfilled in heaven. Augustine and C.S. Lewis did not find what they were looking for in this life, but they surely did in the next.
Here lies the great mystery, that our longing is both terrible and wonderful. We long to experience what we cannot yet see, we crave satisfaction that we know exists but have never tasted, and we desire good things which this world has no ability to give. It is a terrible experience, like living in a cell of total darkness with no windows, yet knowing that the sun is just on the other side. Like a fish flapping and weakening on the beach, knowing its salvation lies just a few steps away.
Our longing is terrible in that we must wait for it, but in that it is wonderful, for we know it will come, and very soon. What we long for does exist, our deepest craving to be loved and made happy has a Fountain that can satisfy it, but until then we must rely on faith that leads to hope.