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.