Advent Retreat – Longing for God

2. LONGING FOR GOD

For Christians and many others of faith their belief and experience are that longing is hard wired not just in individuals but in creation as a whole. Indeed how could it be otherwise if we believe that there is a Creator? If the universe came in to being and is sustained by the power of love and has an ultimate purpose then we should expect, as it were, to keep on catching glimpses of that Creator and long for more.

However, we can lose sight of that ultimate longing. All the many cares and distractions of our daily living can push our sense of God out on to the margins of our lives. Our thought world becomes so cluttered that there is hardly any space for God. Especially in hard times our horizons can become limited, our only concern, to get through this day and have enough resources to survive tomorrow.

Another danger, especially for religious people, is that we come to see our faith as a set of beliefs and practices which we perhaps learned decades ago with the element of longing largely squeezed out. Instead of being something dynamic and expanding our faith becomes static, restricting and even, in the worst case, suffocating. When you were working through your own longings were spiritual ones included? Was there space for an-going longing for God?

In both the Old Testament and the New longing is like a continuous thread, running from Creation to almost the very last words, of the very last book of the New Testament. This passionate cry ends the book of Revelation (22.20),

‘The one who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen.

Come Lord Jesus.’

The great glory of our faith is not only that we long for God but that God first longs for us, his children and that he makes it possible for us to seek and find him.

The Old Testament is shot through with longing. It can be backward looking, yearning for the glory days of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt. After Israel has been defeated and plundered many times there is a deep nostalgia for the period of the empire of David and Solomon. This in turn crystallises into an expectation of the restoration of the House of David, a new king, a Messiah who will restore the fortunes of Israel. In his turn God longs for Israel even when it is at its most wayward and rebellious and has gone after other gods. He may punish his people but always He holds out the promise of future restoration.

The Psalms are a good place to find that longing. Here are few you may find helpful:

Reading

Psalms: 42, 121, 130

If you find the Psalms helpful here are a few more worth a look:

1, 4, 6, 10, 77, 86, 90, 142.

For Christians that promise is fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is the fullness of God’s longing for us. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son’ (John 3.16). We see that yearning expressed in Jesus’ life and public ministry, his desire to forgive, heal and reconcile. In Luke 19. 41-42 Jesus weeps in longing over Jerusalem. In the great prayer before his crucifixion in John 17 we hear him longing for his followers to be one with him as he is with the Father.

Paul too took up the theme. In Romans 8. 18-37 he makes a daring leap of imagination and sees not just humanity but the whole of creation waiting in eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. He goes on to contrast the suffering of the present time with the glory that is too come. This sense of longing for the Second Coming of Christ and for the consummation of all things is very much a hallmark of the early Church.

So too our own faith, if it is to remain fresh and vital it must be a faith imbued with a deep sense of longing. We must yearn to know more of God in our lives, to experience his love, compassion and forgiveness more fully. As St. Augustine (354-430) said, ‘You have created us for yourself and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.’

Prayer

To you we come, radiant Lord,
the goal of all our desiring,
beyond all earthly beauty;
gentle protector, strong deliverer,
in the night you are our confidence;
from first light be our joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Music

Herbert Howells – ‘Like as the hart’