A common Christian description of the human condition is that people as sinners are alienated, lost, and cut off from God. Being out of sync with their Creator and themselves, people are unable to find truly enduring fulfillment and satisfaction in life. And yet, the human longing and desire for meaning, purpose, and significance continues to churn in the human heart. Thus, happiness or true self-fulfillment is fleeting in life.
Christian authors like St. Augustine, Blaise Pascal, Søren Kierkegaard, and C. S. Lewis describe what might be called “soul-sorrow”—being weary and burdened by life and one’s existential brokenness and separation from God. Here’s Augustine’s famous quote from his work Confessions, where he says to God in prayer, “You made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they rest in you.”1 Interestingly, when I read St. Augustine’s Confessions, I often feel like I’m reading the words of an empathetic friend.
The rest and peace for the human soul that Augustine references comes only through finding forgiveness and reconciliation with God through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Human beings were made specifically for an intimate relationship with God, and thus nothing else will satisfy true human longing and desire.
Christians and the Ache of the Soul
Even Christians who have been the recipient of God’s amazing, saving grace in Jesus Christ still long to see God face-to-face. They long to intimately love the Triune God and enjoy him (or them) forever. There are many existentially sensitive Christian souls who sense deeply in this life their yearning for that ultimate and climactic divine encounter with the Lord. Christian counselor Larry Crabb thinks all Christians continue to experience soul ache even after their conversion to Christ:
Yet there is no escape from an aching soul, only denial of it. The promise of one day being with Jesus in a perfect world is the Christian’s only hope for complete relief. Until then, we either groan or pretend we don’t.2
Recently, my wife and I attended a concert of the popular musical artist Steve Winwood. Winwood was a rock star in the 1960s and ’70s, but he in part credits reading C. S. Lewis’s writings with his embracing of Christianity in the 1980s. During the concert, Winwood played one of his classic blues songs entitled “Can’t Find My Way Home.” The song’s refrain is as follows:
I can’t find my way home.
But I can’t find my way home. . . .
Still I can’t find my way home.3
As I listened to Winwood sing these lyrics in his appealing soulish-blues style, I thought that this described well my common experience in life. Though I have been blessed with good fortune in life—especially in terms of faith, family, and friends—I still have a spiritual ache to encounter the Triune God face-to-face, and that ache often feels like I can’t find my way home.
One of my very favorite passages from the Gospels is when the Great Physician-Counsellor-Philosopher, and more importantly, Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ offers words of enduring hope for those who suffer from soul-sorrow and the ache of the soul:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
I’ve encountered God’s amazing, saving grace in Jesus Christ, but I still long for that ultimate rest and peace of the soul. While I am blessed as a forgiven sinner in the here and now, I still existentially yearn for that fuller intimacy with the Lord. Sometimes my soul actually groans to find my way home to God.
King David understood my situation:
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.
Reflections: Your Turn
Have you experienced the ache of the soul? If so, how would you describe it?
For more on the topic of humankind’s longing for God, see “The Historic Christian View of Man,” chap. 10 in A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007).