That Perennial God-shaped Vacuum

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life.”

John 6:26-27

This is an interesting passage because it points to the upside down values that we humans can have. Instead of valuing eternal things, we settle for things that last only a short while. With that perspicuous profundity we’ve come to love, C.S. Lewis captured this aspect about us:

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
The Weight of Glory

Likewise, we cannot imagine what it would be like to seek and savor Jesus alone but instead desire more the things he can or has done for us. To delight merely in his presence is not enough; we instead prefer temporary pleasures or “food that spoils.” We are indeed “far too easily pleased.” The bar must be raised.

But why do we do settle for less? Why do we not seek Jesus alone as our sole and final satisfaction? Why is it that we find fulfillment in “food that spoils?” I wonder if this is partly due to the fact that we are so easily diverted by the things offered to us by the world. Perhaps the desires and pleasures we find from this world are intended to serve as a signpost pointing us in a different direction. An eternal one. Again Lewis:

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were 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. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death…”
Mere Christianity

After all, not all pleasure we derive from this world is wrong to experience; it’s just that the experience of earthly pleasures must be put (and kept) in their place. Even Paul reminded Timothy that it is God “who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment” (1 Tim 6:17).

Nevertheless, I find (and I suspect most would find) that I must constantly be on my game and look for the “food that endures” and not mistake it for “food that spoils.” A few meditations will serve me (and perhaps you) to this end.

Thou awakest us to delight in Thy praise; for Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.
Augustine, Confessions, Book 1, Chapter 1

“What is it, then, that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself. He only is our true good, and since we have forsaken him, it is a strange thing that there is nothing in nature which has not been serviceable in taking His place.”
Pascal, Pensées (425)

God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on gasoline, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. he Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other . . . . God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.”
C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

When I consider your heavens,
the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
which you have set in place,
what are mere mortals that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
You have made them a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned them with glory and honor.
King David, Psalm 8:3-5

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