Have you ever observed something ridiculously beautiful? Like so absurdly lovely that you can hardly stand it?
Okay. Maybe I’m a beauty nerd, or too much of a dreamer, or just plain crazy, but sometimes, when I see something that just completely takes my breath away, I feel this ache. It feels like the ache of a longing that can not actually be met by simply looking at that agonizingly, breathtakingly beautiful thing, but has to be met by entering into the beauty.
I love beautiful, romantic (not in the lovey-dovey sense, but in the “Romanticism era” sense) things. I am sucker for sunrises, sunsets, and sunflowers. Photography allows me to enter into the beautiful in a profound way that doesn’t come from simple observation, but it still doesn’t seem to be enough.
I have pondered this longing for as long as I have been able to think in abstract terms. But, I have never come to a place that I could figure out why I have this longing until I came across a statement by C. S. Lewis in his book Mere Christianity:
” 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.”
Saint Augustine states it as such:
“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”
Restless….how often do we feel painfully restless? I can tell you that as someone with uncontrolled cortisol coursing through her blood stream when upright due to hyperadrenergic POTS, restlessness is not just a common sensation, but it is a constant for me. Restlessness, anxiety, and frenzied panic often define my existence. Much of this is physiological, but some of it comes from a deeply spiritual place.
Our restlessness and our longings inform our spiritual state. If we were entirely content with our state of being, we would not be inclined to pursue God. We would feel no need for God.
I believe that before the fall, Adam and Eve lived in a state of complete contentment. Can you even imagine that? I cannot wrap my frenzied, restless mind around the concept of total and constant restfulness. They felt no discontent, no anxiety, and they were in perfect synchronicity with the Creator and the beauty of the universe. At every moment of every day, they were fulfilling their entire purpose and in absolute union with God. What?? It blows my mind.
Then the fall.
Fast forward to the 900’s BC to King Solomon, who made it his life’s goal to find absolute restfulness and contentment. He acquired everything he possibly could collect materially, he had 700 wives and 300 concubines, boat-loads of wisdom, and all of the entertainment and beauty that one could ever hope to acquire. As a result, what were his sentiments?
Vanity, futility, and striving after the wind.
“Stuff” didn’t work. Labor didn’t achieve happiness. “Knowing things” proved agonizing, and all sorts of lovers just made him emptier. But what did he say about eternity? “He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
Eternity is set in our hearts. Eternity cries out when we encounter undeniable beauty or acts of kindness. Lewis identified it. Augustine declared it. Solomon, Mr. Wisdom himself, wrote a book about it.
Backtrack with me to that crazy beautiful sunset that I just want to dive straight into.
Why do I want to enter into that kind of beauty? The sun, in its shining, is reflecting the creator. All beauty is a reflection of the Creator, the absolutely unbelievably most beautiful One—EVER. I’m not really longing to dive into that sunset and swim around in the beauty. I am longing for the Creator of that sunset, because it is simply a pale reflection of His beauty. It ignites my heart. It is like my heart is recognizing something for which my who being is crying even though my mind has no concept of what it is.
Let’s get really deep here (if I haven’t already lost you): This experiential, “epiginosis” knowledge of God is not just a head-knowledge of God. It is the knowledge of intimacy and relationship. Many theologians call this the “beatific vision.” We won’t go into the theological debate of the beatific vision, but from what I understand, we see only dimly visions of God that we will see more clearly and perfectly when we enter into eternity. (1 Corinthians 13:12).
Our lives are full of glimpses of heaven. I also consider these to kingdom encounters, when heaven breaks through into our daily existence. My sunset experience was a kingdom encounter. Any experience that stirs within our hearts an indescribable longing is probably a brush with the kingdom of God. They often occur when we are least expecting them, and sometimes we see heaven in the “darkest spots” of our earthly existence.
My sickest days, while riddled with pain and suffering, are also prime spots for kingdom encounters. When we come to the absolute end of our human resources and come face-to-face with our morality, depravity, or lack of control, we often bump up against thin spaces where we are more likely to encounter brushes of heaven.
I am learning that kingdom encounters are constants, and they are often accessible. I am sometimes too self-inflated or busy to recognize them. I am learning that the kingdom of God, though accessible, is upside-down. The lowest are the ones closest to it’s gates. The poorest, most desperate, the outcasts, the ones who are most aware of their neediness: those are the ones who are more likely to see the beauty of the Lord God Almighty radiated through into the kingdom of this world.
When we are open to God’s presence in our brokenness, the places between this world and the next grow thin, and glory breaks through. I want to be as close to that glory as is humanly possible.
Hannah Hurnard beatifully captured in her allegorical fiction Hinds Feet on High Places in her picture of waters flowing from the heights of the mountain of glory:
“Sweetest urge and sweetest will, to go lower and lower still…..and suddenly she understood.”