the hidden desire behind our pursuits

The question at a gathering of Christian post-graduate students at UCT recently, was that of the integration of reason and belief, intellect and faith—the old conundrum of keeping head and heart together. At one point in our conversation it seemed a good idea to turn the question on itself. Normally the question being how to bring faith (in)to our vocation. Instead, we chose to explore the question of what our vocation already reveals concerning our faith. I took myself as an example. My first pursuit was to become a wildlife veterinarian. Half-way through my studies, after encountering God, I hesitated, stopped, and took a gap year plus two (obligatory military service). My interest then turned to the arts, graphic design and illustration, only to find that at the end of that journey of self-discovery, that (for me) theology—the study of God himself—was the final destination.

Was I a Gallup research statistic (‘more than 60% of university students regret their choice of study and find employment in an entirely different field’), ripe before my time? Statistics never tell the real story, nor do many other interpretations of our meandering lives. What really lies behind our pursuits, our desires? Even if ‘all men desire to know’, as Aristotle put it, what or whom is it we ultimately desire to know? The architect seeks ordered space, a sense of appropriated personal environment; habitare (‘to dwell’). The psychologist hungers for social and personal self-mastery; the lawyer desires justice, and so on. Personal well-being is good, as is justice and truth. The human design has the pursuit of these and other good things ‘imbedded’. And here is the irony. If God or the universe were capricious—what a fine joke it would be on us if these imbedded desires for that which is good were only illusory or a biochemical evolutionary by-product. (I am not, for the purposes of the argument now, considering the reality of the embedded propensity towards evil.) For, however much we pursue the good and true and beautiful in and of itself, at the end of our pursuit, we are left wanting for a lot more.

The reason for this of course, is simple. The good thing is only representative of the ultimate Good. It is not that reality itself. Yet, we somehow know and seek that Good, that transcendent reality, which we do not have. This is sometimes called “the argument from desire”. Robert Barron summarises it as follows:

You can’t desire what you don’t know. Therefore, if we are desiring something that transcends anything in this world, in some way we must already know it. Therefore we do know, the Truth itself, Good itself, and Justice itself! And that is who God is. God is not one of the true things in the world, he is the Truth itself; which has seized the mind of any philosopher and scientist, any seeker. God is not one more of the good things in the world, he is Goodness itself, which has seized anybody if he or she is living the moral life or seeking the ethically good. God is not just one more just thing in the world, but God is Justice itself, which has seized the will of the lawyer or the judge or anyone seeking justice.

For more, see this by Peter Kreeft.

There is an undeniable primacy to God!

Immediately complementary to this desire for God, is the intelligibility of the universe. At the most basic level it translates into the reality that we can know things about our world, the point of departure for any university curriculum or vocation. The world is a place of meaning, of reason (“logos”; why disciplines are called ‘—logy’). How do we then explain a world full of reason? The best answer is that it comes from the great Intelligence himself, from the mind of God. When we understand something we say that we re-cognise it—we think it again, we think after him, because it has already been thought into being by God (Barron).

Like the primacy of God, the objective intelligibility of the world speaks of the One from whom it came.

When I pursued my veterinary studies I was passionate about the transcendent qualities I recognised in nature. But, as I discovered my desires falling short of being ultimately satisfied, I turned my gaze to the beauty and harmony of art. Again I was brought short, and the restlessness continued till I discovered Theo-logy. Augustine was right, “our hearts are restless until they find rest in Him”. Lewis wisely concurred; “though there seemed to be, and indeed were, a thousand roads by which a man could walk through the world, there was not a single one which did not lead sooner or later either to the Beatific or Miserific Vision”. At the end of it all we will either find heaven or hell, Christ or the evil one. Why not rather find satisfaction in Christ, “in whom is hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” and in whom “all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form”? (Col 2:3,9)

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