Beneath our clothes, our reputations, our pretensions, beneath our religion or lack of it, we are all vulnerable both to the storm without and to the storm within, and if ever we are to find true shelter, it is with the recognition of our tragic nakedness and need for true shelter that we have to start.
Telling the Truth
Artwork: David Hayward
Man has always lost his way. He has been a tramp ever since Eden; but he always knew, or thought he knew, what he was looking for. Every man has a house somewhere in the elaborate cosmos; his house waits for him… But in the bleak and blinding hail of skepticism to which he has been now so long subjected, he has begun for the first time to be chilled, not merely in his hopes, but in his desires. For the first time in history he begins really to doubt the object of his wanderings on earth. He has always lost his way; but now he has lost his address.
–G. K. Chesterton
Most people, if they have really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings that no marriage, no travel, no learning can really satisfy. I’m not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called successful marriages or vacations or learned careers, I’m speaking of the best possible ones. There is something we have grasped at in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent and chemistry may be a very interesting job, but something has evaded us.
If I 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.
–C. S. Lewis,
Our culture has failed precisely because it is a secular culture. A secular culture is a culture reduced to thing and function. Typically, at the outset, people are delighted to find themselves living in such a culture. It is wonderful to have all these things coming our way, without having to worry about their nature or purpose. And it is wonderful to have this incredible freedom to do so much, without bothering about relationships or meaning, But after a few years of this, our delight diminishes as we find ourselves lonely among the things and bored with our freedom.
Our first response is to get more of what brought us delight in the first place: acquire more things, generate more activity. Get more. Do more. After a few years of this, we are genuinely puzzled that we are not any better.
We North Americans have been doing this for well over a century now, and we have succeeded in producing a culture that is reduced to thing and function. And we all seem to be surprised that this magnificent achievement of secularism—all these things! all these activities!—has produced an epidemic of loneliness and boredom. We are surprised to find ourselves lonely behind the wheel of a BMW or bored nearly to death as we advance from one prestigious job to another.
And then, one by one, a few people begin to realize that getting more and doing more only makes the sickness worse. They realize that if it gets much worse the culture will be dead—a thoroughly secularized culture is a corpse.
This is the truth about all of us. It is the human predicament. We have all been addressed. And we know that we are made for higher things. It all stirs within us, whether we are very conscious of it or not. And the stew that this stirring makes inside of us Lewis calls ‘desire,’ ‘longing’ and even ‘joy.’ He calls it ‘joy’ because even the frustration that it creates is more precious to us than anything else on earth. But his best phrase for it is ‘the inconsolable secret.’
. . . In the 1600’s, Sir Isaac Newton put God in a box and reduced Him to a spectator watching the universe from a distance. With God safely tucked away somewhere up there, the Western world moved on with life, trusting that science, technology and politics could solve our problems and deliver our dreams to us. We have hoped in them now for a long time. And they have given us many things, many conveniences and comforts and freedoms. In fact, they have helped produce the most free and prosperous nation on earth—but also the most anxious.
For all of their gifts, science, technology and politics have not been able to touch the soul. Neither has wealth or sports or entertainment. They have not answered the real question. The longing, the aching, the inconsolable secret, is still with us, still in us, still unanswered, and still passing judgment upon us and our conveniences, comforts and prosperity. It is still reminding us that we have not yet found the higher thing for which we all know we are made.
–C. Baxter Kruger
From Ghosts to Persons:
C. S. Lewis’ Vision of Christianity