“The desire for God is written in the human heart.”
This beautiful passage found at the beginning of the Catechism of the Catholic Church reflects a universal desire, one that exists within the deepest yearnings of every human being.
Because we have been made by God for the purpose of a relationship with God, we have within us a desire to seek God. We yearn to know our Creator, we desire his goodness, and we are drawn toward the purpose for which we have been made.
It can be said that man is a “religious being.” Through both individual actions and cultural expression, man demonstrates his desire for God in many and varied ways.
Handing on the Faith
“Throughout history down to the present day, men have given expression to their quest for God in their religious beliefs and behavior: in their prayers, sacrifices, rituals, meditations, and so forth” (CCC 28).
It must be noted that such expressions can also be misguided. Practices of human sacrifice, the worship of celestial objects, and New Age endeavors that “divinize” the human person apart from God show that wounded human nature can be led astray in its quest for God. While these practices obviously lack something — the fullness of God’s revelation in Jesus Christ — they still demonstrate, in some way, the recognition of a spiritual reality, a belief in something greater than oneself, and the desire to satisfy unmet human needs.
One way that our current culture reflects this desire for God is through a universal longing for such things as truth, justice, goodness, and love. Even as our culture tries to push God out of the picture, it still exhibits a longing for the perfection of those attributes that belong to him. Recently, much emphasis has been placed on the concept of truth, as can be seen in our nation’s disgust with “fake news.” The desire for justice can be seen by the recent display of yard signs containing quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King and in our country’s current discussions about race.
Expressions such as these reflect the universal human longing for what is true, good, just, and right. This is because God is truth. He is love. He exhibits perfect justice. Because God has placed a desire for himself within our hearts, we are drawn to those qualities which reflect his very being.
Our experiences of such things as truth, love, and justice reveal to us something about God and even allow us to encounter him in some way. At the same time, our lack of ability to fully experience these virtues is the result of our fallen human nature. We don’t exhibit these qualities in their perfected form.
Only in God do we find ultimate truth, supreme goodness, and perfect justice. Only in relationship with him do we experience the true meaning of love. The world around us provides evidence of the transcendental attributes of God; yet, we don’t experience them fully. We catch marvelous glimpses of God, but we don’t yet see the full picture. As Scripture says, “Eye has not seen, and ear has not heard” the fullness of God’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:9).
While earthly beauty, human virtue, and human love allow us to experience God in some way, these are, in a sense, only reflections of God’s perfection. One danger is that we can grasp for only the reflection, while overlooking the source. Man’s understanding of truth falls short if it does not consider the fullness of God’s revelation. Human execution of justice is good to the extent that it reflects God’s vision of justice. Man’s longing for love is not satisfied through lust, but only through the sacrificial self-gift of another, which is the love that God himself gives to us.
An analogy used by Christopher West when explaining the “Theology of the Body” illustrates how we can fall short when pursuing our desire for God, often settling for something much less. Comparing the desire for love to the hunger for food, West describes how God has prepared a lavish banquet to fill us beyond our desires. Instead of making it to the banquet, we see scraps in the dumpster and, thinking there is nothing more, stop there to satisfy our appetite.
Apart from God, our human desires will always fall short of being satisfied. Even our experience of something good is only a foreshadowing of the eternal goodness that awaits us. The best ice cream cone in the world lasts only a few minutes. The most beautiful sunset is but momentary.
Our desire for such things as truth, beauty, justice, and love draws us to something of great value that goes beyond the physical world. Our yearning for the perfection of these attributes, and yet our inability to attain them, points us to something, or someone, who possesses them perfectly.
That someone is God, and the deepest desires of our heart can only be fulfilled through a relationship with him. When we believe and trust that God is the answer, we will approach prayer with that recognition, seeking to know him and to do his will. And, as we respond to God’s great love for us by entrusting ourselves to him, we will begin to experience the fulfillment of our deepest desires.
Liz Hoefferle is director of religious education for the Diocese of Duluth.