The sweet longing
Have you ever wandered through a field and suddenly stopped because you have been overtaken by an emotional longing, a desire to stay there always? Or perhaps you have heard a piece of music and it has caused goose bumps? That happened to me once whilst listening to the jazz saxophonist Charlie Parker. Or maybe you catch a fleeting memory of something and it stirs your feelings? I guess it is an experience that most of us have had at some time in our lives, perhaps on many occasions.
C. S. Lewis speaking of that feeling says that, "...the mere wanting is felt to be somehow a delight...This hunger is better than any other fullness; this poverty better than all other wealth" (quoted in John Piper, Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully (Nottingham: IVP, 2014), 125). This, it seems to me, is powerfully true and I have experienced it myself, often in the form of recalled memories or being caught up in the beauty of a majestic landscape. It is the beautiful ache, the sweet thirst; it is searing, and even at times mournful, and yet deeply pleasing.
Lewis says this longing is not actually for the beautiful meadow or past memory, but something beyond. And I think he is right. When I gaze over the River Deben, or yearn for the past, I am looking for something that is in neither but is beyond them. It is for something more permanent, that is not so fleeting; something that holds its beauty without any of its blemishes. Memories are painted in my mind with more vivid colours than they actually had. When I look at a beautiful scene, I do so trying to avoid seeing the ugly buildings that mar it. I can enjoy the memory or the scenery, but if I leave it there I am resting not even half way. I am thirsty for something beyond the present view, to hold onto something that I cannot fully grasp. And that is God. God who can be known but not grasped; seen in Christ but not comprehended. One who stirs the ache, fills it, and stirs it some more. And who will do that, for those who are His, for all eternity.
That is why, when we try and find satisfaction in other things than God we never get it. It is always just beyond our grasp. Lewis puts it better. He says of books, music, memories and son, that they will disappoint if trusted in for themselves. "They are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited" (in Piper, 127).
The "thing itself" is the glory of God in the face of Christ Jesus. The "news" is the amazing truth that though we have denied Him, disobeyed Him, called His commandments outdated and divisive, and abused His grace, none the less there is hope for us to see this glory because of Jesus. Jesus who lowered Himself to become as one of us, was mocked by men and women, spat on and crucified. This Jesus died to set us free from the guilt and stain of sin, not just so that we can avoid the penalty that otherwise would be due to us, but for something even bigger. Nothing less than sharing in and enjoying the glory of God forever. The "hunger that is better than any other fullness" will one day be filled and go on being filled. And in that is the "echo of a tune" that will be one of joyous praising for ever and ever.