What We Really Want
That the things of this world do not satisfy us because they pass away and we desire something permanent is a standard truth in religion. In this analysis, we are always clinging in futility to a vanishing object and end up holding onto nothing but our own frustrated will. But there is something missing in this appraisal. It is not only the passing quality of earthly loves and pleasures, but their very nature that leaves us wanting. For we often tire of that which we sought long before it goes away. It is not its temporal nature that fails to satisfy us; it is the thing in itself: its corporeality, its grossness, its externality.
And even the emotions we cherish begin to pall before they are removed by time. We are clearly seeking something that the world cannot supply. We can stand atop a mountain peak with all the lower ranges and valleys and forests and streams spread in splendor and sparkling in the sun and, yet, we will turn away after a while and say in our hearts, if only in an irrepressible whisper: “It’s not enough. I want more, different, other than this.”
What is it we want? We want God. And what is God? The source of all beauty, of all the magnificence and wonders of the world which are but the fringe of that Divine garment we long to touch so that we might be healed of this constant issue of disappointed desire.
One might say that we want to stop wanting, for desire hurts. Not having that in which we think our happiness rests gives rise to anxiety, regret, longing, schemes, alliances, betrayals, recriminations, doubt, hope, disillusionment and, finally, despair. And the despair will come not only when we see that our prize has receded beyond our reach, but even when we have achieved it and hold it in our hands.
The Buddhists build their religion on this despair. “There is nothing here that can make you happy,” they say. “So, give up desire. In emptying ourselves of desire, we empty ourselves of all the pain that comes with it. In desirelessness is peace.”
But is it possible to empty ourselves of desire, to reach a point at which we no longer want anything and to rest there? And, of course, there is the paradox: is not the desire for desirelessness a desire that has to be abandoned, too? To present ourselves with an ideal in which we end, finally and forever, the longing that is implanted in our hearts may be simply to conceive a super-desire that will overshadow all else.
But Christ did not tell us that desire is our problem. It is rather the direction of our desire that He sought to change. For if we are created in the image of God, then desire must in some way be found in God. Is this to posit a lack of something in God? Is God seeking a completeness outside of Himself? This cannot be. Yet, why is it that we, His creatures, who receive all that we have from our Creator, have at the heart of our being this inescapable sense of longing?
When we read the New Testament, especially the Gospel of St. John, we see in Jesus a burning desire that we should come to Him and receive the life He longs to give us. Is Christ incomplete? Does He need us to be fulfilled? How can we understand the passionate longing that blazes forth in His words, as appears so clearly in the sixth chapter of St. John in which Our Lord tells us again and again that He is our food and drink, the spiritual sustenance that will keep us alive forever, if only we will come to Him?
And it is His Father’s will that we should come to Him, that we should have eternal life. Is the Father lacking something that only our salvation can provide? To ask this question is, in one sense, to make of God a temporal being, for all growth from incompleteness to completeness is accomplished in time. But we can ask it in another sense: Can there be an end to infinite love? Is there a point at which God remains static, self-contained, without further expression?
We used the image earlier of our standing atop a mountain peak and, despite the splendor of the vision it affords, of our feeling that somehow it is not enough; that something is lacking. But the image is of our standing alone. What we want at such moments is someone to share our happiness. Then, although the vision will fade, the shared memory and, what’s more, the shared love of the moment, will endure in the bond we have with one another.
All analogies are imperfect, for they are but attempts to understand one thing better by comparing it with something that is distinctly but not entirely different. But what we see in Jesus, in His longing and love for us, is someone standing on a mountain peak, yet He is not looking down but looking up. And He sees the Father: the light of life, the light of love, the source of all happiness, bliss itself. And He says to us: “Look up with Me. See what I see by doing as I do. Love one another and you will know Me and know the Father, and We will come and live in you and be one with you.”
The love of Jesus is not rooted in need, but in overflowing love. We find it hard to understand this because our love is mostly rooted in need. The fact is, we are merchants in love: we will give so much if another gives us so much. We are always weighing, comparing, keeping a keen eye on the exchange rate. We demand our fair price in return for the love we give. Marriages break down when one party feels the other is not living up to the bargain. In most of our relationships we tend to be calculating.
But the love of God is not based on need. Real love is not based on need. We can begin to understand this when we look at the love of a parent for a child. A helpless infant has nothing to offer in exchange for the love lavished upon him. He is not even aware of the benefits he is receiving, nor does he know or care about the benefactor. Yet, the child awakens something in the nature of the parent: a love that is selfless, that does not seek a return and an even exchange; a love that is unmeasured and limitless, for what parent would not give his own life for that of his child.
This love is analogous to God’s love for us. Jesus used the analogy of father and child repeatedly. It was the leitmotif of His teaching. He was, first and foremost, the beloved Son of His Father. And He told us that this same Father loved us with the same love. The Last Supper chapters of St. John’s Gospel show Our Lord pouring out His heart to us, inviting us, urging us beseeching us to love one another as He loves us. We cannot entirely comprehend this Divine longing, for it is not something to be understood, like a proposition, but something to receive and reciprocate.
Desire is God-given. We are not here to suppress it or abandon it. We are here to direct it towards its source: God. And in God, desire does not find its fulfillment in the sense that it comes to an end, but rather its beginning in that which never ends. The one thing we never tire of is love. The one thing we always want more of is love. The one thing we will have at the end of our earthly existence, the one thing that will carry us beyond death, if it is strong enough, is the love of God. To live in that love, even now, as much as we are able, is the only reason we are here. All desire is, in the end, a longing for God. To know this is wisdom, which is why wisdom and love are one.