“Incurably religious. That is the best way to describe the mental condition of so many people,” Thomas Edison observed.
Indeed, it is almost universally true. We are, as a rule, hungry for God. I find this to be especially true in children, who will, unbidden, sing of and speak to and inquire about God with unvarnished appetite.
I was at a Mexican restaurant the other day, and in the booth behind me I could hear a conversation between a young boy and his long-suffering mother, who was being put through an inquisition regarding God’s gender and relationship status.
“Is there a girl god?” he asked.
“No,” said the mother.
The answer awakened other questions. He pressed on: “God never got married?” “No,” she said. Long pause. “We’re all his children, so who’s his wife?” It was a good question, better than the mother’s answer, and better than mine would have been. The waiter arrived with their food, and the mother was grateful to shift the young scholar’s focus from theology to tacos, which he must have enjoyed. Moments later, he rattled the booth with a series of belches of a kind boys his age take no end of delight in.
As we get older, the questions become more complex and the answers less satisfying, but the curiosity remains. Life never cures us of our native appetite for God. All our other appetites have an object to which they correspond. If food does not exist, why are we hungry? If love does not exist, why do we want to fall into it? This tells me there must be something, somewhere in the universe or outside it, that corresponds to this incurable appetite for God. If God does not exist, why do we ask if he’s married?
C.S. Lewis called it “the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell ... We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it.” This appetite for God, Lewis said, is the “scent of a flower we have not found.”
I am leery of those who claim to have all the answers to these perennial questions. As a Christian, I believe God has revealed himself in scripture, and I believe some of his attributes can be seen in the world we live in. But I’m with the Apostle Paul, who said about the things of God, “We see through a glass darkly.”
Faith invites us into mystery so profound that silence is often the appropriate answer. I find myself losing my appetite (for God) when someone dries and dissects and labels Lewis’ “flower that we have not found.”
Better to chase the fox than to capture it.
And I am sad for those who are so weary, so certain of despair, that they have stopped asking the questions.
David Pannell describes himself as “a recovering farmer and the reluctant pastor of Common Ground Christian Church in Wren, Mississippi.” Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.