The Hidden Spring

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There was once a powerful dictator who ruled his country with an iron will. Every aspect of life was thought through and worked out according to a rational system. Nothing was left to chance.

The dictator noticed that the water sources around the country were erratic and in some cases dangerous. There were thousands of springs of water, often in the middle of towns and cities. They could be useful, but sometimes they caused floods, sometimes they got polluted, and often they burst out in new places and damaged roads, fields, and houses.

The dictator decided on a sensible, rational policy. The whole country, or at least every part where there was any suggestion of water, would be paved over with concrete so thick that no spring of water could ever penetrate it. The water that people needed would be brought to them by a complex system of pipes. Furthermore, the dictator decided, he would use the opportunity, while he was at it, to put into the water various chemicals that would make the people healthy. With the dictator controlling the supply, everyone would have what he decided they needed, and there wouldn’t be any more nuisance from unregulated springs.

For many years the plan worked just fine. People got used to their water coming from the new system. It sometimes tasted a bit strange, and from time to time they would look back wistfully to the bubbling streams and fresh springs they used to enjoy. Some of the problems that people had formerly blamed on unregulated water hadn’t gone away. It turned out that the air was just as polluted as the water had sometimes been, but the dictator couldn’t, or didn’t, do much about that. But mostly the new system seemed efficient. People praised the dictator for his forward-looking wisdom.

_67297997_watermain4A generation passed. All seemed to be well. Then, without warning, the springs that had gone on bubbling and sparkling beneath the solid concrete could no longer be contained. In a sudden explosion – a cross between a volcano and an earthquake – they burst through the concrete that people had come to take for granted. Muddy, dirty water shot into the air and rushed through the streets and into houses, shops, and factories. Roads were torn up; whole cities were in chaos. Some people were delighted: at last they could get water again without depending on The System. But the people who ran the official water pipes were at a loss: suddenly everyone had more than enough water, but it wasn’t pure and couldn’t be controlled.

We in the Western world are the citizens of that country. The dictator is the philosophy that has shaped our world for the past two or more centuries, making most people materialists by default. And the water is what we today call “spirituality,” the hidden spring that bubbles up within human hearts and human societies.

Many people today hear the very word “spirituality” like travelers in a desert hearing news of an oasis. This isn’t surprising. The skepticism that we’ve been taught for the last two hundred years has paved our world with concrete, making people ashamed to admit that they have had profound and powerful “religious” experiences. Where before they would have gone to church, said their prayers, worshiped in this way or that, and understood what they were doing as part of the warp and woof of the rest of life, the mood of the Western world from roughly the 1780s through to the 1980s was very different. We will pipe you (said the prevailing philosophy) the water you need; we will arrange for “religion” to become a small subdepartment of ordinary life; it will be quite safe—harmless in fact—with church life carefully separated off from everything else in the world, whether politics, art, sex, economics, or whatever. Those who want it can have enough to keep them going. Those who don’t want their life, and their way of life, disrupted by anything “religious” can enjoy driving along concrete roads, visiting concrete-based shopping malls, living in concrete-floored houses. Live as if the rumor of God had never existed! We are, after all, in charge of our own fate! We are the captains of our own souls (whatever they may be)! That is the philosophy which has dominated our culture. From this point of view, spirituality is a private hobby, an up-market version of daydreaming for those who like that kind of thing.

shutterstock_97397987-800x430Millions in the Western world have enjoyed the temporary separation from “religious” interference that this philosophy has brought. Millions more, aware of the deep subterranean bubblings and yearnings of the water systems we call “spirituality,” which can no more ultimately be denied than can endless springs of water under thick concrete, have done their best secretly to tap into it, using the official channels (the churches), but aware that there’s more water available than most churches have let on. Many more again have been aware of an indefinable thirst, a longing for springs of living, refreshing water that they can bathe in, delight in, and drink to the full.

–N. T. Wright,
Simply Christian

Hearts and Vines

14643744-autumn-ivyNo man can be without his god. If he have not the true God to bless and sustain him, he will have some false god to delude and to betray him. The Psalmist knew this, and therefore he joined so closely the forgetting the name of our God, and holding up our hands to some strange god. For every man has something in which he hopes, on which he leans, to which he retreats and retires, with which he fills up his thoughts in empty spaces of time, when he is alone, when he lies sleepless on his bed, when he is not pressed with other thoughts; to which he betakes himself in sorrow or trouble, as that from which he shall draw comfort and strength–his fortress, his citadel, his defence; and has not this a good right to be called his god? Man was made to lean on the Creator; but if not on Him, then he leans on the creature in one shape or another. The ivy cannot grow alone: it must twine round some support or other; if not the goodly oak, then the ragged thorn; round any dead stick whatever, rather than have no stay or support at all. It is even so with the heart and affections of man; if they do not twine around God, they must twine around some meaner thing.

—Richard Chenevix Trench
(1807-1886)

The Insufferable Prison of Atheism

chinacross_001How is it that the country which most ruthlessly sought to eliminate religion in the last century is now poised to become the most Christian nation in the world? Approximately 65 million lives were eliminated in China last century in an unparalleled attempt to plant materialism firmly in the hearts of the Chinese people. It failed disastrously.

It is not known exactly how many Chinese Christians there are, but a conservative guess now estimates that there are at least 65 million Protestants in China and 12 million Catholics—more believers than there are members of the Communist Party. Some Chinese Christians think the number is well over one hundred million. Furthermore, China is now the biggest publisher of Bibles worldwide.

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The communist revolution was not exactly successful. To endeavor to imprison people within the narrow confines of a materialist worldview is a hopeless task. To claim that there is no supernatural order to the universe, that there is nothing beyond the four bare walls of the physical world is a hideous lie that ultimately will not stick.

People have an intrinsic need for meaning, for transcendence, for some kind of connection with the spiritual realm. It’s in our DNA. It’s written in our hearts. This inner thirst can never be satisfied by merely indulging our physical senses. There’s a longing within us that the material world cannot satisfy. The Bible describes it with these words: “He has also set eternity in the hearts” (Eccles. 3:11).

Religion is under attack in the West. Forces such as New Atheism have risen up to replace Christianity with a purely naturalistic worldview. China tried that and it failed (not to mention several other countries where the experiment also crashed and burned.) It didn’t work in the East, and it won’t work in the West. People simply cannot be contained in such a suffocating prison.

–J. O. Schulz

Our Real Hunger

urlIn the midst of the suffocating self-love of our modern and postmodern culture, the Bible is clear that our real hunger is to know the one true God revealed in its pages. Only in doing so will we satisfy our cravings for security (faith), find the purpose for which we exist (hope), and be able to live free from slavery to self (love).

To meet these needs, we must return to the [God of the] Bible. It really is that straightforward.

– Scott Hafemann

Fantasies fail to satisfy hearts made for God

Disappointment-300x225Built into life is a strong vein of irony for which we should be grateful to our Creator. It helps us find our way through the fantasy that encompasses us to the reality of our existence. God has mercifully made the fantasies—the pursuit of power, of sensual satisfaction, of money, learning, of celebrity, of happiness—so preposterously unrewarding that we are forced to turn to him for help and for mercy. We seek wealth and find we’ve accumulated worthless pieces of paper. We seek security and find we’ve acquired the means to blow ourselves and our little earth to smithereens. We seek carnal indulgence only to find ourselves involved in the prevailing erotomania. Looking for freedom, we infallibly fall into the servitude of self-gratification or, collectively, of a Gulag Archipelago.

–Malcolm Muggeridge,
Seeing Through the Eye: Muggeridge on Faith

A Yearning for Something More

Bertrand RussellThe centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain . . . a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite – the beatific vision, God – I do not find it, I do not think it is to be found – but the love of it is my life . . . it is the actual spring of life within me.
        –Bertrand Russell, Philosopher and atheist

Made for another world

CS LewisMost 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,
Mere Christianity

The pervasive desire

Ron-RolheiserThere is within us a fundamental dis-ease, an unquenchable fire that renders us incapable, in this life, of ever coming to full peace. This desire lies at the center of our lives, in the marrow of our bones, and in the deep recesses of the soul. At the heart of all great literature, poetry, art, philosophy, psychology, and religion lies the naming and analyzing of this desire.

–Ronald Rolheiser
The Holy Longing