Sunday, January 11, 2009

Hope, Longing, and Shalom

Plantinga begins the first chapter of his book by addressing our hopes and longings. He writes that as we grow older, we become jaded, unlike the innocent child. We develop into patterns and ruts, constraining our thoughts and desires. The child eagerly admits his hopes, while as adults we are “shy about them and don’t speak of them easily.” We forget the beautiful simplicity of hope, what it is to truly long with a purpose and passion. C. S. Lewis defines this phenomenon of human yearning with the German word “Sehnucht,” carrying “strong overtones of seeking and searching.”

Our hopes may be deferred though. Often times they are nostalgic, reminiscent of those past days of happiness and joy. We seek to recover those early “stabs of joy” felt as a child. However, our beautiful nostalgia can be detrimental and blind us from the future. Perhaps our memories are selective, gleaning from our history only the good times filled with excitement and joy. Thus, results a false representation of a past that is over glorified. Our desire for the way things were prevents our progress towards fixing or enjoying the way things are now.

Instead, we need to recognize that through our nostalgia, the past is both how it was and how it could be. Nostalgia must spur us on towards the future. We should not entangle ourselves in a web of bygone memories. We must leave behind our desire to “get back.” All our longings are unfulfillable on this earth. We long and hope for something that is much deeper and more intimate. A thing only mirrored in the things and experiences on this earth; a final joy lying beyond the walls of the world.

Plantinga uses a quote by C. S. Lewis to describe the nature of our desires: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when in finite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Augustine too recognizes this condition of man, his prescription being that human beings want God. We desire union with God and want to get “in” him. However, we are so often satisfied by small representations of God in the world. We are “too easily pleased” as C. S. Lewis puts it, settling for less than the best. We think we know what we want, but really it is what lies behind those things that we truly desire. In Philippians 4:8 there is a list of what we really long for, “whatever is true, noble, pure...,” the very nature of God.

Perhaps it is shalom that we long and hope for, the flourishing wholeness that can spread over a community, the rich state where all needs are met. In the Hebrew language shalom is defined as peace. We as humans distort this concept though. We seek self-interests versus others’ interests. We place ourselves as the center of the world, satisfying our desires while the community around us may be left behind or suffer. Really, instead of finding a flourishing peace, we find ourselves in a hardened shell, a curled ball unassociated with the rest of the world. Our tendency to gratify our own desires has isolated us from our community. Here we must recognize that shalom is communal. It is for others, not us. We need to remove ourselves from being the center of the world. And, most importantly, recognize the true center as lying outside of the world.

Hence, our lives must be models and examples of love, yearning for the true love that Christ has demonstrated towards us. Then our love will be contagious, spreading over all of mankind, transforming the nature of our desires. We will have progressed towards a shalom.

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