Sunday, February 08, 2015

The Heart's Resting Place

If material things satisfied us Americans would be the most satisfied people in all of history. But we are a deeply satisfied people who still haven't found what we're looking for. Yale's Miroslav Volf writes:

"More important, almost paradoxically, we remain dissatisfied in the midst of experiencing satisfaction. We compare our “pleasures” to those of others and begin to envy them. The fine new Honda of our modest dreams is a source of dissatisfaction when we see a neighbor’s new Mercedes. But even when we win the game of comparisons—when we park in front of our garage the best model of the most expensive car—our victory is hollow, melancholy. As Gratiano puts it in Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, “All things that are, are with more spirit chased than enjoyed.”" (Miroslav Volf, A Public Faith, How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, Kindle Locations 1090-1094)

We chase after things and, if we secure them, we're off on yet another chase. We are the never-satisfied people. Volf writes: "Marked as we are by what philosophers call self-transcendence, in our imagination we are always already beyond any state we have reached. Whatever we have, we want more and different things, and when we have climbed to the top, a sense of disappointment clouds the triumph." (Ib., Kindle Locations 1095-1096)

It's not life's failures that disappoint us, but life's successes. The very things we thought would bring us to inner satisfaction do not, once achieved. The sense of disappointment, the hollow victory, the melancholy mood - these are the barren fruit of our human accomplishments. What is the answer to this? Volf writes: 

"Our striving can therefore find proper rest only when we find joy in something infinite. For Christians, this something is God." (Ib., Kindle Locations 1096-1097) The continual-looping achievement-dissatisfaction cycle is why people look for some transcendent something or Someone that can fill the heart's vacuum.

"We feel melancholy because our pleasure is truly human and therefore truly pleasurable only if it has meaning beyond itself. So it is with sex, for instance. No matter how enticing and thrilling it may be, it leaves an aftertaste of dissatisfaction—maybe guilt, but certainly emptiness—if it does not somehow refer beyond itself, if it is not a sacrament of love between human beings. It is similar with many other pleasures." (Ib., Kindle Locations 1098-1101)

Our possessions cry out "More!", and never "Enough!" Read the European existentialists to experience and understand the ultimate barrenness of material goods and accomplishments. (Perhaps begin with Die Verwandlung.)

Volf concludes:

"When we place pleasure at the center of the good life, when we decouple it from the love of God, the ultimate source of meaning, and when we sever it from love of neighbor and hope for a common future, we are left, in the words of Andrew Delbanco, “with no way of organizing desire into a structure of meaning.”[102] And for meaning-making animals as we humans ineradicably are, such desire to satisfy self-contained pleasures will always remain deeply unsatisfying." (Ib., Kindle Locations 1102-1106)

I thank God for his gracious capture of my heart, which forever placed himself as both my great desire and resting place. One has to experience this to believe it.