When a man walks into a room, he brings his whole life with him. He has a million reasons for being anywhere; just ask him. If you listen, he’ll tell you how he got there–how he forgot where he was going and then he woke up. If you listen, he’ll tell you about the time, he thought he was an angel and dreamt of being perfect. And Then he’ll smile with wisdom, content that he realized the world isn’t perfect. We’re flawed because we want so much more. We’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had. –Donald Draper, Madmen
If you asked me to sum up the human experience, I don’t think I could say more with many words than I will say with just one: Longing. There’s a certain shiftiness those things for which we hope and desire–they either evade us or aren’t quite what we thought they would be when we get them. In the end, they aren’t enough. We previously discussed the idea of Longing in terms of a desire to go Home. I’d like to pick the topic back up today using the idea of Shalom.
Shalom is a Hebrew word meaning: a state of peace, completeness and welfare–fully restored and whole. It’s a state of being, not a place. In many ways, it’s the opposite of Longing. A man cannot be at peace and still ache–cannot be whole and still empty. I think Shalom may be the thing for which we seek–it’s the Home we have never known, and yet we somehow know of it. Our longings point us there: both the incompleteness of our joy and the pain of our sorrow.
Ever notice how even the very best things in this world somehow fail to keep their promises? C.S. Lewis put it this way:
Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy. I am not now speaking of what would be ordinarily called unsuccessful marriages, or holidays, or learned careers. I am speaking of the best possible ones. There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in the reality. I think everyone knows what I mean. The wife may be a good wife, and the hotels and scenery may have been excellent, and chemistry may be a very interesting job: but something has evaded us.
We are left wanting more or other, but left still wanting–still longing…
It may be more obvious how pain leads us to the same place. In general, pain is a signal that something’s not right. If your hand was burning on a hot stove, the pain would tell you to move it away. It’s not meant for that kind of heat. I think when we look at our lives, we’re often left with the question of what we are meant for given the pain we experience. Moving one way or the other doesn’t seem to make it subside as we endure broken relationships, rejection, anxiety, fear, sickness, physical deterioration, even death. The pain tells us we were not made for these things. I think deep down we know this is not the way life was supposed to be.
I would argue that Shalom is the way life was supposed to be–the way Creation was intended to function. It might look something like you walking side-by-side with the God who created you, experiencing His love in a community of family and friends, at peace with your neighbors, together seeking both individual and collective well-being as you praise God daily for all that is Good. Each person properly relating to God, to others and to the rest of Creation. Sound like a hippie retreat or a fairy tale? Maybe, but this is exactly what the Bible says we were created for–to worship and love the Creator and to deeply enjoy Creation as a community. God first, then everything else enjoyed as it was intended–that’s Shalom. For a brief time in a single place, it was the ruling order–but it was very short-lived.
As we discussed in the last post, we have not kept our side of the bargain. Adam and Eve screwed up first, but none of us has much room to fault them. Unfortunately, God had this to say after Adam and Eve disobeyed Him:
“The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.” So the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Genesis 3:23-24).
God didn’t make us to long; He made us to worship. But worship turned away from God turns quickly into longing because we choose to worship things that don’t satisfy rather than the One who does.
Adam and Eve chose knowledge over God. The cost was no longer knowing God as they were meant to. They were kicked out of the Garden and now none of us can go back there. And more than that, you see in God’s verdict, the introduction of new ideas that are not in the original Creation–separation from God’s presence, reaching for but not obtaining, hard work against the land for food and ultimately, death.
Though we have not been there, we were made for the Garden. Now there is a flaming sword to keep us out–literally, our sin separating us from the Shalom for which we were made. We are alienated from God, from one another and from Creation itself, even our own bodies betray us to decay and death. These are utterly comprehensive consequences–leaving nothing in this world as it was meant to be, leaving nothing that can satisfy. We try to soak in the world’s joys but are disappointed. We try to dull its pains but still hurt. If all the Good that exists is in the world, we are doomed to our longing. The Bible says we are in good company–for even Creation itself groans to be restored.
The Sword in the Garden is the beginning of the history of God and His people–and it’s only the beginning. The rest of that history drips with the idea that while Shalom is the way things were meant to be, it is also God’s Promise for how they will end. If you look closely, you can find that promise even here as Adam and Eve listen to their sentencing (Gen 3:15).
This is good news: good news for those whose joy leaves them empty; good news for those whose sorrow seems endless. We may yet find our way Home. It’s a Home we’ve never known that will exceed our greatest imaginings.
We long. But only for now.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.
We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Pt 1 here.
Pt 3…coming soon.