Wrong will be right, when Aslan comes in sight.

At the sound of his roar, sorrows will be no more.

When he bares his teeth, winter meets its death,

and when he shakes his mane, we shall have spring again.

~C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Sunday, January 9, 2011

On "Longing and Hope"--Chapter 1 of Engaging God's World

During our class discussion, one of my professors asked me what I longed for the most.  What is my deepest, unfulfilled desire, the one thing I wish more than anything that I could have, and can’t?  I wish that this question wasn’t so easy to answer.  I wish that my deepest desires were easily satisfied, that all I really wanted was, say, chocolate cake, or an evening with my college friends, or a nice, quiet walk around campus on a snowy morning.  Because longing isn’t a pleasant experience.  It aches in a deep, unrelenting way.  And yet, I’m glad that I have something worth longing for.  It means that, in some small way, I’ve scratched through the surface of thin pleasures, the everyday ups and downs of life, and touched Joy.
I close my eyes, and suddenly I’m standing at the top of a modest green hill.  Behind me is a lodge, and behind that the hill continues to slope upward into the mountains.  Beneath me lies a dirt path, and long, low building around which hummingbirds flit—the mess hall—and a bright thread of a stream.  Beyond that, more lodges, and great forests of trees, and high above that a peak of brownish stone.  The summer sun is warm on my hands and face.  A gentle breeze blows through the aspens, carrying the scent of autumn—chill air buried under a thin crust of heat.  I hear friends laughing on my left, the creak of a swing. 
If I just take a step forward, I could be there again.  I have never left the mountains.  My friends are still just a shout away. 
In the first chapter of his book Engaging God’s World, Cornelius Plantinga (paraphrasing C.S. Lewis) describes longing as “seeking union with something from which we are separated”.  This could be union with a loved one, or a special place, or a fond memory.  In every case, however, such union—at least, total union—is not possible.  Even if I could, somehow, be transported back to the mountains with all of my friends at this very moment, it would not completely satisfy my longing for them.  This is because my longing has its origins and its ultimate goal beyond this world and this life.  I long to be back at Moot—but that longing springs out of my inborn thirst to be reunited with God.
Longing, Plantinga continues, is important because it is an essential part of hope—which he defines (drawing on Lewis B. Smedes) as part imagination, part faith, and part desire.  In my case, I can clearly imagine what I long for.  I definitely desire it.  But it seems to me that it is the element of faith that turns longing into hope.  Without belief that the thing longed for will one day become reality, longing is empty, bitter, and fruitless.  Though it is impossible to step into the past and relive one’s memories, I do believe that someday I will get to spend time with my friends again.  Thus, I not only long to be back with them, but I have hope that I will.
Finally, Plantinga (paraphrasing Nicholas Wolterstorff) touches on the idea of shalom—“universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight—a rich state of affairs in which natural needs are satisfied and natural gifts fruitfully employed, all under the arch of God’s love.”  In other words, he continues, “shalom…is the way things are supposed to be.”  As Christians, we have hope that all our longings will one day be satisfied.  And, I believe, our longings now point to and grow out of our hope for shalom.  During Prelude this fall, I read an article by Wolterstorff on the idea of shalom.  (I searched for it, but wasn’t able to find it on the internet—if I ever do I’ll post a link to it.)  Roughly, he described shalom as perfectly right relationship with God, with others, with one’s self, and with nature.  I couldn’t help but tear up as I read his words, because I had gotten just the tiniest taste of that coming joy at moot.  Never before or since have I felt so humble before God, so comfortable with others and with my surroundings, and so content to be myself.  I long to feel that again—in this life, with my friends.  But I know that I do so because, ultimately, I long to experience true shalom in the new earth. 


  1. Having moved around a lot and left a lot of friends behind, I also have an acute longing at times for the past, for those times where I was with my friends and we were just enjoying each others company. In many ways I hate that longing because it makes me feel incomplete and empty but at the same time I would never give it up because that would mean giving up not only the hope of achieving reunification with those friends but also the great times that have already happened.

  2. this reminds me of my favorite Lewis quote, "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." - C. S. Lewis

  3. Sarah, this is such a wonderful blog! I think that you have such a wonderful memory to go back to when you think of longing. Just imagine how beautiful God will be! One thing that is amazing to think about is that God is going to be millions of times more awesome than anything we have ever encountered on this earth!

  4. It is so true that we as Christians have hope that our longings can be satisfied. Sometimes I wonder if I didn't have that in my life, what hope I would actually be able to have. Longing can be both a wonderful and a terrible thing, because it can give us hope for the future, and yet it can drive us crazy when we long for the past too much. It's a wonderful thing, though, to be able to hope for the shalom that God has promised us!

  5. Amen, to all of you! Nia, that is one of my favorite Lewis quotes. So simple, yet so true--the fact that our longing cannot be satisfied in this life points to the fact that there is another life in which our thirst will be quenched. Corrie, thanks so much! And yes, God will be more wonderful than I can even begin to imagine. It's a wonderful thought, and frightening one too.