Holding with Empty Hands
I am not a morning person. Never have been. But some days are easier than others. Some mornings I am warmed by Scriptures and the sun and the homespun sounds slipping under my door; my daughter making coffee, my son washing up breakfast dishes. But other days my heart does not rise to greet the day. I am filled with that old longing for… for a familiar something I cannot quite name. It’s “the deep [calling] out to deep” (Psalm 42:7), the hidden eternity placed in the heart of man (Ecclesiastes 3:11); the forever we long to grasp but can only vaguely guess (Ecclesiastes 8:17). It’s a longing I have known all my life and sometimes — sometimes it fills me with a filmy sort of sadness.
CS Lewis sketched my meaning (great authors always know the trick of supplying what we lesser mortals long to say)—
“… because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, Psyche come! But I couldn’t (not yet) come and I didn’t know where I was to come to. It almost hurt me. I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home… The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing—to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from… Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back. All my life the god of the Mountain has been wooing me. Oh, look up once at least before the end and wish me joy. I am going to my lover. Do you not see now—?”
I suppose this longing is not unique. Eve was chastened with a promise (Genesis 3:15) and chased from Eden’s tree (Genesis 3:22-24), to await the shadow of an altogether different tree (Galatians 4:4-5). But it all began with a longing. The prophets longed to see Christ (Mt 13:17) but ended where they began—with empty-handed faith (Hebrews 11:13), and still that old longing.
Yes, we know about the longing. But fulfillment? We must take that on faith. Still, we are blessed with a faith that shows us the outlines of “a desire fulfilled”—what it looks like in this world: it is “a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). That’s a little more familiar. After all, it is the image Christ presented the world.
Except, His tree was Cross-shaped ( 1 Peter 2:24).
In the end, I suppose longing is tied to a hope — whether the wrongful desire of Eve or the righteous yearning of the saints; the longing simply points to something profound—a sort of “desiderium sinus cordis.” Or, as Pascal would have it,
“What is it then that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.”
And for the Christian, hope is sure, if only deferred. The promise still stands: He will make even the longing beautiful in its time (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
So for today my hope is deferred and my heart is sick, but one day I will open my eyes to an everlasting day where the longing of my heart will finally be fulfilled; and “when I awake, I shall be satisfied with [His] likeness.” (Psalm 17:15).
But for now I must hold to the promise with an empty-handed faith.
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. …” (Revelation 22:1-21 ESV)