But a Shadow
Innate in every human being is a desire to experience the great things the world has to offer.
Indeed, I have met very few people who do not have a gnawing appetite for the vast and colourful buffet that life has spread before them. Whether it is through travel, art, finery, or love, humanity yearns to experience it all.
We think, “I am human. I am on this earth for about 80 years, I must make the most of this time. I must see as much of this planet as possible, fall in love, perhaps have children. I must become the best, and acquire the best. I must, I must, I must.”
Is it a sense of obligation or entitlement? I cannot decide.
Regardless, it is there. It is why we either pity or shake our heads at she who has lived in the same place her entire life, and he who has never fallen in love. We believe that there is a something they are missing out on; they are neglecting to taste one of life’s finest delicacies.
This desire which I am describing is not foreign or even necessarily wrong. It is simply incomplete. Unsatisfying. A man spends the majority of his life traveling the world, experiencing every culture in the best possible way and yet he never feels truly contented. Ah, he thinks. If only I had found love, then I would have been content.
Meanwhile another man has a perfectly happy marriage, full of laughter and romance and pleasure, and yet, satisfaction is also lacking. Ah, he thinks. If only I had risen farther on the corporate ladder I would have been content.
Please notice I did not say, “I would have been happy”. People are often happy, for happiness is easily achieved - contentedness is entirely separate. Man can see all and experience all and there is still a sense of incompleteness.
CS Lewis offers an explanation for this when he says,
“If I can find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.”
What a striking idea - to suggest that every good thing this earth offers is but a shadow of the truest version of it; namely, God. This is why our souls long to travel, to taste good food, to find love and wear beautiful clothing. It is because these are the directly attainable versions of something we can only find in Him.
Emily Bronte writes on this matter in the verse,
“Though earth and moon were gone / And suns and universes ceased to be / And thou wert left alone / Every existence would exist in thee.
There is not room for death / Nor atom that His might could render void / For thou art being and breath / and what though art may never be destroyed.”
Every existence would exist in thee. I swear I get shivers down my back every time I read that, for it's such a beautiful concept. It dares to suggest that if nothing this life claims as “good” existed in the literal sense – no nature, friends, food - it would continue to exist in God for he encapsulates every good thing.
Do you understand? God epitomizes goodness, beauty, laughter. He is the apotheosis of these faded, shadowy pleasures which we so earnestly strive after. We are captivated by a shimmering reflection not realizing that the real thing is right behind us.
Now do not mistake me, I am not saying we should neglect these earthly pleasures. They are gifts given from Him for the purpose of awakening our longing for the Creator. We simply must remember them for what they are: but a shadow.