“I don’t believe in God, but I miss him.”
What a poignantly insightful and profoundly sad opening to a memoir by the atheist Julian Barnes (Nothing to Be Frightened Of).
Here is another one, only from G.K. Chesterton: “He who does not believe in God, doesn’t believe in nothing, he believes in anything.” *
Now I will add a necessary insight from C. S. Lewis. Lewis was an atheist. An intelligent atheist. A committed atheist. A disdainful atheist. But he was empty. He had longings and yearnings that simply were not satisfied by his atheism, his secular creed, his literary pursuits, his jaunts into the countryside. And these longings troubled him.
A few times through his life he felt alive, in tune with something beyond himself, touched by beauty, intrigued by transcendence, and Surprised by Joy. That is the name of his autobiography and it is one of the core sources ** of my thinking on what it means to flourish, find joy, and be happy.
Lewis had longings that were unfulfilled, desires that were not satisfied. Eventually they would be, but virtually against his wishes. He describes himself at his conversion as “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.” But not for long. With his newfound faith in God – and deep personal connection with Father, Son, and Spirit – the intellectual, emotional, moral, and spiritual pieces all began to converge. He was surprised by joy – not once, but over and over.
He discovered what the great theologians and philosophers of past centuries had known and described.
You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you (Augustine). Click here to read a longer reflection from Augustine that provides the context for this quote.
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?
This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself (Pascal, Pensees).
The Bible simply tells us God has placed eternity in the hearts of men and women (Ecclesiastes 3:10-12). Be sure to read these few verses!
You are meant to know God. You are designed in every atom of your existence to find your life, your joy, your meaning, your purpose, your identity, your self, your destiny, your future, and your eternity in GOD.
You may not believe in God, but you do miss him, even if you are not as aware of it (just like Julian Barnes).
Don’t miss God.
Don’t miss joy and happiness.
Don’t miss a life of flourishing.
Pursue God in Christ, through the Spirit, by means of worship, prayer, and Scripture, through repentance and faith, through friendship with followers of Christ, through participation in the missional purposes of God.
Therein is your happiness.
Along with you, one who is gratefully surprised by joy,
** My favorite C.S. Lewis book is The Great Divorce. I just read it again last week. I read it once a year. As I read it, during The Flourishing Project, it hit me hard – everything I think about flourishing and happiness is embedded in this short book. In some way or other, Lewis has peered into the deep places of the heart and written very well of our longing for happiness, as well as our stubborn refusal to allow God to be God and for us to find our happiness in him. All attempts to find our happiness anywhere else keep us from God.