“Know heaven to be the only treasure and labor to know also what a treasure it is. Be convinced once that you have no other happiness, and then be convinced what happiness is there. If you do not soundly believe it to be the chiefest good, you will never set your heart upon it; and this conviction must sink into your affections; for if it be only a notion, it will have little power. As long as your judgments undervalue it, your affections will be cold towards it. If your judgments once prefer the delights of the flesh before the delights in the presence of God, it will be impossible for your heart to be in heaven. As it is the ignorance of the emptiness of things below that makes men so over value them, so it is ignorance of the high delights above, which cause men to so little care about them. If you see a purse of gold, and believe it to be nothing but stones, it will not entice your affections to it. It is not a thing’s excellency in itself, but it is excellency known that provokes desire. If an ignorant man sees a book containing the secrets of arts or sciences, yet he values it no more than something common, it is because he knows not what is in it: but he that knows it, highly values it; his very mind is set up on it.”Richard Baxter, The Saints’ Everlasting Rest
Ecclesiastes 3:11 – [God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Great saints of God have beautifully, if feebly, attempted to capture the height and depth and weight of such a majestic verse as this. In his Confessions, Augustine wrote, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.” Pascal’s oft-quoted idea that people have a God-shaped vacuum in their hearts only God can fill strikes a similar note.
We do have a longing in our hearts for eternity, or better, the God of eternity. Perhaps C.S. Lewis in, The Weight of Glory, best expressed this deep desire of our hearts. He wrote,
In speaking of this desire for our own far-off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness… I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each of one of you – the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence… We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.
…The books or music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things – the beauty, the memory of our own past – are good images of what we really desire, but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing in itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.”
Eternity has been placed in our hearts by the King of eternity. Our longing is a homesickness of sorts. For though this is our Father’s world and was created good, it is now fallen. And when touched by the Holy Spirit we can no longer remain content with the things of this world alone, things that are temporal and destined to fade away.
Perhaps some do not experience such a longing for their true homeland because their hearts and minds are not yet set on things above where Christ our King is seated. Perhaps the ravages of sin have so infected their hearts and minds that a shadow has veiled their sight. We can only pray that the same gracious and sovereign Spirit who touched and re-created us will do the same for them.
In the end there is no end, for we were created for eternity. We are pilgrims and aliens traveling in a foreign land, longing for the City of God, not built with human hands, but eternal in the heavens.
May the longing of our hearts for things unseen serve as our true north, that we might one day arrive Home.
- Have you ever sensed the longing described by C.S. Lewis? Describe that experience?
- Did you find that you tried to locate the feeling in something temporal or were you able to understand it was pointing beyond itself, to something eternal?
- What are some ways you could explain this experience to an unbelieving friend as a way of introducing him or her to God?
God of eternity, I praise you for planting deep within my heart a longing for you, my true Home. I thank you that you are not content watching me move through this world with little desire for you. The penetrating calling and conviction of your Spirit ever draws me back to you. Please keep my heart and mind set on you. As St. Augustine put it, please make me restless until I am finally and fully resting in you. Continue to give me a heavenly homesickness that will continue to move me toward you. In Christ I pray. Amen.