Desire is Endless, We Are Not
A thought-provoking post from Matthew Jepsen. (Reproduced here with permission).
Below, Lewis articulates a contemporary rendition of Augustine’s “God-shaped hole”:
Most people, if they have really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we have grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.
- C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Ch.3
I’m tracking with him here for sure, but I’ve met quite a few Christian (with whom this also resonates) that are mystified at how few people around them seem to find this sort of thing compelling. Michael Spencer discussed the same thing about six years ago in light of a London Times study on religion and youth. The relevant summary goes like this:
“Nevertheless, young people do not feel disenchanted, lost or alienated in a meaningless world. “Instead, the data indicated that they found meaning and significance in the reality of everyday life, which the popular arts helped them to understand and imbibe.” Their creed could be defined as: “This world, and all life in it, is meaningful as it is”, translated as: “There is no need to posit ultimate significance elsewhere beyond the immediate experience of everyday life.” The goal in life of young people was happiness achieved primarily through the family… The researchers were also shocked to discover little sense of sin or fear of death. Nor did they find any Freudian guilt as a result of private sensual desires. The young people were, however, afraid of growing old.”
Capon though, (to string some metaphors together), gets closer to the bone, closer to the bare metal, closer to the raw psychology behind this and in the process borrows a page out of Girard’s book (whether he knows it or not).
The untamability of romance, the endlessness of the vision of the beloved, threaten constantly to send us off in successive limitless expeditions after something that grows successively harder to define. The movie star on her fifth marriage seems always to be less clear about what she wants and less free to make her wanting serve her well. For under it all lies the endlessly expansive pride of a being who cannot add a cubit to her stature or a minute to her life. That is our dilemma: desire is endless; we are not.
-Robert Capon, Bed and Board, p.56
Romance is never ultimately satisfying, not necessarily because we have this longing for God that is mistakenly misdirected at the nearest lover (thought that can be an accurate way to describe it at times), but because our desire is alive and regenerated and unlimited. Ambition for power and success can never be satisfied because our capacity to envy will always exceed the magnitude of our own frame.
A man who drinks gets thirsty again, but Christ explicitly(!) describes what He gives as a “spring of living water welling inside” (John 7). Oughourlian argues convincingly in his Genesis of Desire that this thirst is most certainly from God, not the product of our corruption or of the devil. Adam was thirsty in Eden, and then he was satisfied by drinking water. So are we. But we cannot add one cubit to our stature. We steadily covet more than our humble (but beautiful) selves can ever contain. To be satisfied in God and to find rest in him implies, chiefly, that we no longer need what our neighbor has, or what only our creator has. In due time He wills to give us all in an ongoing and eternal fashion.