November 20, 2006

Sehnsucht, Shalom and Satisfaction

We're discussing Neal Plantinga's Engaging God's World on the online discussion board for the cohort.

Lewis called it sehnsucht. Augustine described the restless heart that only finds its rest in God, and Pascal is attributed with calling it the “God shaped void” in man's heart.

Plantinga calls it Shalom and I think this is most appropriate from a Biblical perspective- this longing or desire that was instantiated at the fall for reconciliation, peace and the pleroma of the presence of God is the backdrop against which the narrative of Scripture unfolds. Meaning and purpose are personal holy grails we develop toward.

In my own life journey, the evidence of the search extends far beyond the reality of my initial salvation. That was in many ways just the beginning of the search for the Good the True and the Beautiful in pursuing an good works- and I was a teenage pharisee. I pursued an aesthetic life; but art became an idol. In the area of the life of the mind, the search for clarity in the cloud of unknowing led me to explore Christian mysticism and philosophy and contemplative prayer; knowledge became an idol. It was by God's grace alone in apprehending the truth about me in the book of Romans and the idea of Acts 17:28 in Paul's discourse at the Aereopagus that tattooed the reality of the answer to "who am I?" on my mind- In Him we live and move and have our being. It's not about us: all things are in Him and through Him and to Him. It is only through trusting Christ for ourselves and others that we can develop into thoroughly biblical humans. He died to offer us eternal joy.

In “normal” human development it is imperative to work within the caveat that since the fall, we are not “normal” from God's perspective. Death and sin is not “normal” in that regard. Not to be simplistic, but the average person does not develop in a vacuum. They develop and incorporate the cultural values they feed upon. You are what you eat, in that regard. If you feast at the table of idols, you are bound to have a false sense of self. Our desires, as Lewis said, are far too small.

In the average human development the imago Dei is perverted in the rational, moral, and creative aspects. The first part of 2 Timothy 3 is a case study in this. Men are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” The average person wants answers but they do not want to think outside their presuppositions. In the absence of absolute truth there can be no ultimate satisfaction for them. Yet the longing remains manifested in the prejudices, pursuits and insatiable hunger for the “other” created in the image of "self". This is a generation that is eaten up by the pursuit of false spirituality. That sound you hear is the sound of itching ears being scratched.

It is informative to read Al Mohler's latest enterprise, the On Faith commentary at Newsweek. The responses are highly illustrative of this discussion.

Books are our friends..

I read The Call by Os Guinness during the time when I was considering pursuing the PhD and it now has a place on my shelf for the books I intend to reread every few years. It affirmed and articulated much that I already knew, but in a coherent way that confronted and challenged me to live what I believe.

Books are remarkable things and a friend's comment on this book sent me pondering about their impact. Goes to show that authors of books can be great teachers too; this is not to say that we do not need teachers, on the contrary, but I think many of the attributes of a great teacher we mentioned can be evidenced in some way in the pages of a good book because of the fact that it is ultimately the Holy Spirit that teaches us.
This especially attains when we learn the lessons the Holy Spirit taught believers in the past. In my case the desert fathers, post reformation writers such as Thomas Boston, Edwards, and later Spurgeon, B.B. Warfield and from my lifetime Packer, Schaeffer, Lewis and Piper have had as much impact as any classroom teacher I have encountered. I am also a collector of audio teaching and don't know what would have happened to me without that resource during a couple of Midian experiences I have encountered.

I am exploring a thought here/making observations and what I write may just be stating the obvious. Jesus embodies his teaching perfectly through the Word and it lives (2 Tim 3:16-17) by the Holy Spirit. John tells us there are many things Jesus did that are not recorded in Scripture. So Jesus the teacher models or embodies what he teaches in authoritative ways that any book other than the Bible cannot approximate. Therefore, we must do all our reading in the light of Scripture. I would propose that the books that have made the deepest impact in history have either majored in Scriptural content or ideas or conversely, the books that have negatively impacted the world have been ones that suppressed the truth (Romans 1)...just a thought...

Thanksgiving Day! Yes it is!


It's not a word, but it expresses the state and experience of unrequieted longing humans share, and which is only possible to reconcile in Christ. It's Thanksgiving morning and I just laid in bed this AM rehearsing how Good God is and basking in it. What a joy to have a hope and promise that transcends this world. Paul spoke of living in the light of the unseen in 2 Corinthians. We have to reckon that reality to be true, but we also are affirmed in our spirit by the Holy Spirit in regard to its efficacy. But I think Shalom is in a sense transcendent of this world. Here paradox reigns, where the more you taste and see that God is good, the more you desire of Him. We drink living water and long to remain at the well, and I think final satiation of that thirst awaits us at glorification.We are satisfied, yet remain deer panting for the waterbrook. We are dead to sin, crucified with Christ, but we continue to take off the old man and put on the new man. We attempt to run the marathon with the old man strapped to our back. I think this is the underlying reality of our life that transcends all earthly affections, but manifests itself in our loves, passions, and dreams. It is more than fulfillment, as someone else has stated, it is who we are in the core of our being. We are needy and want to be sufficient.

I am coming up on 40 years as a Christian, but I can remember the point of death of my old man like yesterday. I was eleven years old and I had struggled for 2 years with the reality of my hopelessness. I grew up in a pretty impoverished scenario, and when I was about nine I started my career as a thief. I stole "stuff". I took pocket change from my Dad's bureau and hid it in a Lipton tea box in my underwear drawer (I didn't say I was a smart thief) in my bedroom secret stash. I remember the rush of hoarding it, and finding ways to be devious about spending so as not to arouse questions. I remember the day I was found out, not so much the peach tree limb that I had to choose and retrieve so as to expedite my punishment, but more the searing shame I felt initially at being found out and then the struggle to realize that I was in no way a "good little boy". And I felt the pain of my parent' disappointment and the approval I was always seeking turn into a mountain of guilt.

God used this particular sin and its consequences/ramifications to woo me to Himself but it took two years of white-knuckling the pew before I bent the knee to His grace and received forgiveness and mercy. I think often of how that deceitfulness can rear its head in the new man. I have been a thief of God's glory, I have stolen His good name in times I have not had a grateful heart for what His love and grace has denied me. I take liberties with His goodness whan I rationalize that I am only human. I have substituted a fake for the precious jewel of worship- I took that missing jewel that Tozer referred to. But deeper than this, I've tried to hijack who I was ontologically, to be a very god to me.

Humans have a startling and devastating propensity to construct a world in which they are "good" and I cringe when I hear someone who is wallowing in sin declare that they have an "inner peace" about it. I do certainly believe that Christians are made into new creations- that is GREAT news! But we also see counterfeits abounding where biblical justification has been co-opted and the substitution of self-justification or even "justification by death" (most people believe in a false hope of heaven) has wreaked havoc in lives. Mini-saviors abound, but they are wood, hay, and stubble. We develop illusions to take the place of God's more sure promise and the sum total of the Sin of the world is the result. We grow wise in the ways of the wilderness where we wander. Thanks be to God that His Son was obedient to death on a Cross to perfect our salvation from our selves!

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