Monday, 27 April 2020 16:05

Feeling Restless?

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We are truly curious beings. Restless actually, aren’t we? We’re not made to sit still, isolated, disinterested. We like to look for something more and ask the big questions of “why” and “how.” In fact, it’s what keeps us going - it keeps us moving forward. It’s a healthy dissatisfaction, a zest for life and what it can offer. It’s what keeps us alive, both in the most primitive and practical sense, but also in a more existential and teleological sense. 

The premise of evolution assumes it. We’re told our curiosity and drive for survival led us to discover the use of tools, fire, and every other invention and development throughout history. Once we’d found a habitat and a source of food and water, we might have settled down, like the rest of nature. But something in us just wasn’t satisfied - we wanted more.

And yet, there is a deeper existential aspect to this curiosity and interest in life that gets us up each morning. If we lose this, we’ve lost essential energy and motivation, a vital sense that there is something more out there - something I don’t yet know or have. When we are no longer curious, we enter a state of depression and numbness; we feel stuck, trapped. This drive for truth and meaning is a key part of what makes us human.

But what is this curiosity and where does it come from? Is it purely biological? Is it simply a product of natural selection? Or is there something intrinsically “other natured” about our inner drive for more? Is what we experience more like hunger for something spiritual, beyond the natural order?

In his book The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis talks about an “otherness” when describing the feeling of awe we might experience when in the presence of something powerful and yet unknown in the natural world. He calls this spiritual presence “the numinous,” and he argues that the concept of the numinous and corresponding experience of awe cannot be explained by or originated in the natural realm. 

“There seem, in fact, to be only two views we can hold about awe. Either it is a mere twist in the human mind, corresponding to nothing objective and serving no biological function, yet showing no tendency to disappear from that mind at its fullest development in poet, philosopher, or saint: or else it is a direct experience of the really supernatural, to which the name Revelation might properly be given.” (p.8-9, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis)

Is this spiritual hunger we all seem to experience not of the same nature? In fact, are these experiences not connected? The inexplicable experience of awe of something that is beyond us and bigger than us is the very experience we are restless for. It is this “something bigger than us” that our souls are hungry for.

Darwin has told us our inventiveness is purely biological. Science and naturalism explain it all. Nietzsche claimed there is nothing more to look for. Foucault affirmed that no one knows, as truth is a product of our own context. These ideas have moulded our secular humanist worldview, making them almost unequivocally accepted, leaving little or no space for the numinous.

But we can’t shake it off. No matter how much we surround ourselves with the material, our souls cry out for more. Why? The 4th-century philosopher and theologian Saint Augustine answers this in his Confessions.

“You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”  

I believe we all have a soul that is spiritually hungry, and that the curiosity that has kept us alive since the beginning is part of the beautiful creation we are. My hope is that you might discover the numinous that Lewis described as he, a professor at Oxford and former outspoken atheist, was surprised by a supernatural joy he never knew existed.

Luke Greenwood

Luke is the Director of Steiger Europe and International Training. He has been a missionary with Steiger since 2002 and served the mission in many ways in several regions of the world.
Instagram: @steigereurope

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