Thursday, September 17, 2015

A still small voice

Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, makes an attractive case that has made sense to me ever since I read C.S. Lewis on sehnsucht in Surprised by Joy:
.... [C.S. Lewis] insists that our longing for things eternal has real connections to other kinds of longings. Even our most mundane quests for fulfillment, he argues, are in some important sense anticipations of the more lasting kind of joy for which we have been created.

The source of our fulfillment is not simply Joy or the Eternal, in some abstract sense. We are created for a personal relationship with the Living God. Furthermore, that God, the Creator who has fashioned us in his own image and likeness, comes looking for us. And in the deep places, all human beings are aware of that search, even if they cannot identify the One who is seeking them.

No one makes this point more eloquently than Abraham Joshua Heschel did in God in Search of Man. He describes the Genesis scene where Adam and Eve, having eaten of the forbidden fruit, hid themselves from the presence of God. But the Lord comes looking for them, and he cries out, “Where art thou?” That call, Heschel says, is one “that goes out again and again. It is a still small echo of a still small voice.” It may not be “uttered in words” or “conveyed in categories of the mind,” but all human beings, as children of God, regularly hear it in the deep places of their being: “Where art thou?”

This is an important reality—one that Calvin means when he speaks of the sensus divinitatis, the sense of the presence of God. We can be confident that even those who live in open and declared rebellion against the Living God regularly hear that still small voice. It may be when suddenly they awake in the middle of the night with the nagging sense that something is stirring in their deep places. Or it may be in a time of particular worry or fear. They hear the voice calling their name, even though it may not be uttered in audible words.

That divine call promises fulfillment for each person’s quest for joy. But it does not encourage us to take our human longings, even those that seem quite free from the effects of our fallenness, at face value. You will sometimes hear the line (often misattributed to G.K. Chesterton) that the man who knocks on the door of a brothel is looking for God. Obviously the statement should not be taken as meaning that the man hopes that God will be the one who greets him at the door. The message is rather that people who are looking for ultimate fulfillment in the quest for pleasure or wealth or power or any other element or aspect of creation will not find it in these things.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts the point simply: Our chief end as human beings is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. [more]