Reflections on the Gospel, #1: Promises Hidden

[God] made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, … that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him. Yet he is not far from each one of us, for “In him we live and move and have our being”; … “For we are indeed his offspring.”

Acts 17:26-28

You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.

Saint Augustine of Hippo

Christians believe that God created the whole universe from nothing, and that he is still creating it, holding it in existence, and guiding it. That includes us. God created us and still holds us in his hands. He is the source of all that is good within us. That includes our desires for truly good things — for joy, for peace, for love, for greatness, for fullness of life. Desires which we have not only for ourselves but for others — our families, communities, nations, and the whole world.

But these desires don’t match up with reality, do they? We desire more than life is giving us. Many desire security, but only find anxiety — life, but instead find illness and death. Many desire to be loved deeply and to love deeply in return, but cannot seem to find such love. Many desire lasting joy but settle for cheap pleasures that don’t satisfy. As a result of this, many live life bitter, jaded, angry, shallow, depressed, addicted, or more likely some combination thereof. Are you one of them?

It’s all very understandable; on the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much reason for hope. Anyone who looks at human life and the world with honesty will see that there’s little hope that things will ever fundamentally change. As the old proverb goes, there is nothing new under the sun. Just when we think we’ve entered into a new era of human flourishing, the old familiar evils come back under new forms. We might as well accept it: illness and death are going nowhere; selfishness, oppression, hatred, and violence are here to stay. Even though we desire good, evil continues to reign, and will do so for the foreseeable future.

All of this can seem as if Someone — our Creator, perhaps? — had made great promises to us, and then decided to not keep them. If this were true, then life would be a kind of hopeless horror-film. There are other options, though. Perhaps there is no “Someone” and no “promises” — only the illusion of them. In such a case our disappointments are likewise illusions, and we should either strive to rid ourselves of the illusions (as in Buddhism and various philosophies), or just resign ourselves to our sad fate (Nihilism) and either enjoy ourselves the best we can before the darkness envelops us (Hedonism), or embrace the darkness by intentionally harming ourselves and/or others.

Here is another option: perhaps the “Someone” and the “promises” are really there, but the promises simply have not yet been fulfilled. Many people, in fact, of varying religions and of no religion at all, seem to live as if this is the case: they patiently wait, with hope, for a better future, even when that future seems nearly impossible. Such people are often motivated to do many good things in service of their hope, because they are not deterred by the obstacles; and in this way they do and preserve much good in the world. They do good because they have a hope that somehow reaches beyond the world as it currently is … to what? What are such people actually hoping for? Some claim an answer to that question, some do not. Some actively seek an answer.

Are you among those few who not only hope and do good, but who actively seek the source and goal of your hope? Our shallowness, laziness, and selfishness make it difficult for us to seek. Nevertheless, many do seek. The unity, goodness, truth, and beauty that are in this world stirs and strengthens their disappointed desire, and speaks to them of a promise: a Unity, Goodness, Truth, and Beauty beyond this world — a “Someone” both beyond and within the “somewhere” of our universe. These people are seeking the face of God and the fulfillment of all desire. Are you one of them? Or have you given up in disappointment?

Practicing Christians, then, are among those who wait patiently, with hope, doing good and seeking God’s face. Christians believe in God, hidden beyond and within this world. We believe that through the desires of our hearts, he promises us good. We believe that he created the whole universe, holds it in existence, and guides it; and he created human beings that we may seek out and find him. That our desire was put into us for a reason. We were created for hope, and we were created to seek God Our Creator as the fulfillment of all of our deepest desires. Our hearts are restless until they rest in him. “Yet he is not far from each one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; … ‘For we are indeed his offspring’” (Acts 17:26-28).

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