What makes a businessman decide to practice insider trading? Why does a successful and well known actor solicit a prostitute when he has a beautiful wife at home? When John D. Rockefeller was asked, “how much is enough?” he responded, “just a little bit more.” Why was he driven to get more when he had so much already?
There is no simple answer to each of these questions. We are complicated creatures and our choices come from a variety of motivations, some of which we may not be conscious as the choice is made.
I suspect that a sense of longing for something that is missing is part of the answer to why these people responded the way they did. A passage from C. S. Lewis’ essay, The Weight of Glory comes to mind:
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 almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of youâ€”the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. 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. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworthâ€™s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the 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 thingsâ€”the beauty, the memory of our own pastâ€”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 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.
I am watching as my world becomes less coherent due to the rejection of the Judeo Christian ethic with nothing of substance to replace it. I see freedom being eroded around the world by the rise of totalitarian governments both atheistic and Islamic. I see much of the church ill-prepared to withstand the challenges of the day. And I get frustrated at my own inability to respond properly to all of this. Within and without I see the effect of sin and I long for something better.
In the Parable of the Virgins (Matthew 25:1 ff) Jesus tells us to be prepared for his return. I suppose that the awareness of how flawed this life is and the longing for something better are part of that preparation.
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