We’re never satisfied. Enough is never enough. Life seems to be a constant chase for filling what can never be filled.
For some it’s food. For others it’s shopping, sex, drinking, being with people, working, or collecting. We never quite reach what we’re striving for. Seriously, how many pink shirts do you need in your closet?
The Germans have a great word for this while English does not. Sehnsucht, is what we might describe as “addictive yearning.”
Read on; this article isn’t what you think.
The renowned 17th-century philosopher, inventor physicist and mathematician, Blaise Pascal is said to have written: “There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man that cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God.”
However, it seems that what he actually wrote in his Pensées (Thoughts) was more like the following:
“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself”
This unfulfilled longing can lead us to unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.
Franciscan Priest, Richard Rohr calls them addictions: “Addiction uses up our spiritual desire—the drive God put in us for total satisfaction, for home, for heaven, for divine union.”
Many religious people view the “questing” part of our personalities as something God installed to drive us to him.
HOWEVER, not everyone sees this unmet, addictive yearning as of God.
Northern Irish philosopher and theologian, Peter Rollins, thinks this never-met searching is a result of the fall—when sin entered the world and broke everything. In his book, The idolatry of God: Breaking our addiction to certainty and satisfaction, Rollins argued that God doesn’t want to fill the void, He wants to deliver us from the need to have the void filled.
Rollins doesn’t list God along with all the other stuff we pursue; “success, good looks, money, Jesus, children, a partner, or even stamp collecting.”
He promotes the idea that we can never be filled; we have to embrace the idea, “that we can’t be whole, that life is difficult, and that we are in the dark.” He invites us to a faith where we joyfully embrace brokenness and longing to be complete. He challenges us to break our addiction to the need for certainty and satisfaction.
We are just people. We long for stuff. And we try to figure out life’s dilemmas.
CS Lewis referred to this in his book, The Weight of Glory: “Apparently, then, our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation.”
I think it helps to know that we’re not alone in our struggle. It’s one more thing we share as members of the human race.
So either way you look at it—a God-filled hole, or a result wrong in the world, we are deep down all looking for the things we can never find. Perhaps what matters most is how we respond.
Haldar, V. (n.d.) Blog. Retrieved from: http://blog.vivekhaldar.com/post/74742098214/theres-a-german-word-for-it-of-course
(n.a.) Pensées. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pensées
Sarah. (April 19, 2011). The correct quote of Blaise Pascal. Retrieved from: http://itsjustme.wordpress.com/2011/04/19/the-correct-quote-of-blaise-pascal/
Rollins, P. (2012). The idolatry of God: Breaking our addiction to certainty and satisfaction.
Image by Oskar Zwintscher, c.1900