Do you feel lost . . . groping . . . unfulfilled? If so, you aren’t alone. Most people, at unguarded moments, will confess that they possess inner longings that nothing in life seems able to satisfy. While times of joy enrich every person’s life, those inner yearnings always lie naggingly in the background. The universality of this experience demands an explanation. Why are unfulfilled longings so widespread? The answer is that our longings are universal because our Creator planted them within us. What we are longing for, though we often don’t recognize it, is to know Him. The little tastes of joy we receive are His gifts, incomplete though they are, to prepare us for something better . . . Himself. Possessions and pleasures never seem to deliver the satisfaction they promise because they cannot substitute for the satisfaction of knowing incomparable Greatness and of being known by Him. Those longings are evidence that He loves us. He cares about us too much to allow us to find ultimate satisfaction in possessions or pleasures. Until we realize this, however, we continue our search.
Many of us try to avoid the emptiness we feel through busyness or denial; but ultimately we are internally—and sadly—suspicious that we are merely postponing the inevitable. "Nothing tastes," said Marie Antoinette. Psychiatrist Thomas Szasz captured modern man’s disillusionment when he wrote, "Happiness is an imaginary condition, formerly attributed by the living to the dead, now usually attributed by adults to children and by children to adults." People begin to think about the great possibilities of future joy when they are very young, and with good reason. We hear from those around us that one thing or another will make us truly happy people. We are told that wealth will make us happy; or that love or marriage will do it; or travel, or learning, or something else. Then, after a while, we begin to see that those conventional solutions to our aspirations never measure up. No matter how much wealth we have, it doesn’t satisfy our deepest cravings. No matter how good our marriage, it doesn’t quench the fires of our innermost longings. Brief moments of exhilaration enter our experience and provide just enough encouragement to make us desire more. Like a mirage, however, the joy that we seek seems to retreat into the distance as we approach. Boredom is the great unmentioned plague of modern life, and the elusiveness of personal satisfaction is no respecter of persons.
Today’s news often carries reports of celebrities and notables who have discovered for themselves the inadequacies of today’s happiness prescriptions. The world’s beautiful people, in fact, seem to suffer disproportionately from the boredom of arriving at the summit and finding the mountaintop disappointing. Pro tennis player Boris Becker rose to be number one in the world a few years ago, yet admitted that he was suicidal even as his achievements and fame were peaking. He said, "I had won Wimbledon twice before, once as the youngest player. I was rich. I had all the material possessions I needed . . . It’s the old song of movie stars and pop stars who commit suicide. They have everything, and yet they are so unhappy. I had no inner peace. I was a puppet on a string."
Jack Higgins, internationally famous novelist, was asked what he would like to have known when he was younger. He replied, "That when you get to the top, there’s nothing there." People respond to such disappointments in a variety of ways. Some reach what has been called the fool’s conclusion. The fool puts the blame for his boredom on the poor quality of his pleasures. He concludes, when his marriage is disappointing, that it was his wife’s fault. So, he looks for another wife. The travel wasn’t quite what he had hoped, so he goes somewhere new. His hobby wasn’t nearly as good as he had thought it might be, so he seeks another hobby. He goes through life chasing fantasies without finding their corresponding realities, and always for him it is because what he has is never good enough. The fool’s answer seems to appear most commonly among the rich and famous (they at least have the wherewithal to continually seek new versions of their dreams).
A second deficient answer comes from the cynic. He tries many things to make himself a satisfied individual. None of them work, so he concludes that the quest itself is the problem. As a result, he settles down and tries not to expect too much. The older cynics get, the more certain they are of this point of view. They say, "When I was young I thought that I could find the end of the rainbow, but I know better now." Neither the fool’s nor the cynic’s answer is adequate to explain the human problem. We move in these directions because even our capacity to think of alternatives is limited, for an entire dimension of our lives is missing. That missing dimension is the spiritual. Please note: spiritual, not religious.
Religion is simply a variety of the fool’s answer. Religion is man seeking to impress God with his devotion and earn satisfaction by his religious achievements. It is a dead end. Spirituality—as defined by the Bible—begins when we recognize that God has already sought us and provided a way to know Him. That way is through Jesus Christ. "I am the way, the truth, and the life," Jesus said; "No one comes to the Father except through Me." While some say Christianity is a philosophy, and others that it is an ethical point of view, still others claim it is really an experience. None of these really gets at the heart of the matter, however. Each of those descriptions is something a Christian has, but none tells what a Christian is. Christianity has at its core a transaction between a person and God. A person who becomes a Christian moves from knowing about God distantly to knowing Him directly and personally. Jesus said, "This is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent."
Christianity is knowing God through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is necessary for the satisfaction of those inner longings that lie within us. His entire mission in life was to repair the breach caused by human indifference to God. That indifference is what the Bible calls sin. People live for themselves, indifferent to their Creator who gave them life. Because of our refusal to think about God, God sentences us to grope about and squander our efforts on useless things and pleasures until we conclude that they are dead ends. When we reach that point, we are ready to think about the claim He has on each of us. But because our indifference is so hurtful to Him and so hateful to His majesty and greatness, He also sentences us to eternal death. "The wages of sin is death," the Bible says. Before we can come to know Him, we must overcome the spiritual death that comes through our indifference to Him. He made that possible by sending Jesus Christ into the world to suffer—in our place—the penalty of our indifference and sin. When He hung on the cross between heaven and earth, He cried out as He died, "It is finished!" He used a commercial expression that was familiar then and is today: "Paid In Full." Jesus’ death’ satisfied the righteous demands of a holy God. That payment opens the door to life, but a transaction must still take place. God is waiting to give us eternal life. That’s right. Eternal life is a gift: "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." We receive a gift by opening our hands and receiving what is offered. "To as many as received Him, to them He gave the power to have everlasting life." Spiritually speaking, that is called faith.
We take God at His word. We do not insult Him by rejecting His offer; we ask for it, and thank Him for it. Jesus said of this offer, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water." At that point, Jesus takes up residence in the person who receives Him. He is no longer distant. We are no longer strangers to Him, but His children. Though the ultimate satisfaction of our longings still awaits our physical presence with Him, we know in a real if incomplete way the quality of that satisfaction. C.S. Lewis wrote, "The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and pose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home."
If you have received the gift of life from Jesus Christ, develop and grow in your faith by becoming part of a family of believers in a local church. There is a great God and a vast body of truth with which to become familiar. And if we can help you along the way, please let us know.