[H]e has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
-- Ecclesiastes 3:11
Sehnsucht (ZEN-sookt) -- From the German. A practically indescribable longing, craving, or yearning.
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...
-- C. S. Lewis, "The Weight of Glory"
When we broke ourselves with our sin, the image of God in us was fractured, and the sound of its breaking is like a signal from our hearts sent out to deepest space in search of reception. It's been said we all carry around a God-shaped hole. There is something missing. This is a rather static concept inferior to the German concept of Sehnsucht. Lewis writes of it best. But other artists capture it equally well and better. Poets Whitman, Eliot, Auden. Novelists Austen, Auster, James. Van Gogh and Hokusai. Rachmaninoff to Radiohead. King Solomon. There is an active ache inside of us. We are groaning with creation.
We all groan. But we deal with it different ways. What do we do with Sehnsucht?
1. We drug it.
Perhaps the most common way we stifle this longing for God is by pouring false gods into it. "Every one of us is from birth a master crafstman of idols," Calvin says. From meth to porn, shopping to Facebook, the world does not lack for anesthetics. Most people commit to an endless cycle of temporarily satiating Sehnsucht. It's endless, of course, because drugs wear off.
2. We deny it.
This approach often goes hand in hand with idolatry, and is at its core self-idolatry, as plenty of people simply say they aren't broken, they aren't missing anything, they don't have that "inconsolable longing." They've got a happy family in a nice house with a two car garage supported by a good job and nothing bad has happened to them, and they just don't think they have cause to suspect they long for anything more. Of these people, John Kramp, author of Out of Their Faces and Into their Shoes, wisely reminds us, "You can be lost and not know it." Let's not pretend every person apart from Christ feels lost without Christ. This is probably the most dangerous position to be in.
3. We deify it.
This approach is becoming more popular in professing Christian circles, particularly among younger generations. At some point, the longing itself became more interesting than the longed-for. Idolaters of Sehnsucht don't mind reveling in the mysteries at the expense of their Author, because mystery seems so much more interesting than revelation. Those who settle for the longing itself rather than the settler of the longing coddle their doubts, cherish subjectivity, and elevate uncertainty.
4. We delight it.
"If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,'" Jesus says to the woman, "you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water." How do you delight the longing? By finding the receiver tuned to its frequency. Only the enjoyment of God himself makes Sehnsucht truly beautiful. Only the rest of the Savior finally solves our weariness. The cry of our hearts has one authorized interpreter, and this once unknown tongue, a lament, a barbarous yawp (thank you, Whitman), translates to a joyous yawp when spoken in its native land.
You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are not at rest until they find their rest in Thee.