The Elephant of Desire in the Kayak of Our Imagination

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (HarperOne; 2001), page 149:

There have been times when I think we do not desire heaven; but more often I find myself wondering whether, in our heart of hearts, we have ever desired anything else.

Peter Kreeft, Heaven: The Heart’s Deepest Longing (Ignatius; 1989), pages 43–44:

Take an hour or so to do this experiment, not just read about it. (The simple act of taking an hour away from external diversions for inner confrontation with your heart, no matter what comes of it, may he the hardest part of the experiment — and also the most valuable and desperately needed in your hectic life.)

Ask your heart what it wants. Make a list. The sky’s the limit.

Now imagine you are God; there is no limit to your power. Design your own heaven and then give it to yourself.

First imagine what you want. Then imagine getting it all. Finally, imagine having it for eternity. How soon do you think you would grow bored or restless?

Suppose your first list wasn’t very profound. Try again. Go deeper this time: not pleasure and power and fame and money and leisure, say, but good friends and good health and intelligence and a good conscience and freedom and peace of mind. That might take a few more millennia to bore you, perhaps. But aren’t all imaginable utopias ultimately boring? In fact, aren’t the most perfect ones the most boring of all? Doesn’t every fairy tale fail at the end to make “they all lived happily ever after” sound half as interesting as the thrills of getting there?

Can you imagine any heaven that would not eventually be a bore? If not, does that mean that every good thing must come to an end, even heaven? After eighty or ninety years most people are ready to die; will we feel the same after eighty or ninety centuries of heaven? Would you have to invent death in your ideal, invented heaven? What a heaven — so wonderful you commit suicide to escape it!

But if we don’t want death and we don’t want boredom in heaven, what do we want? If heaven is real, what real desire does it satisfy? And even if it is unreal, only wishful thinking, what is the wish? What do we want?

We want a heaven without death and without boredom. But we cannot imagine such a heaven. How can we desire something we cannot imagine?

Our desires go far deeper than our imagination or our thought; the heart is deeper than the mind.

Psalm 16:11:

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The Pain of Life, the Supreme Goodness of God, and the Joy of the Psalmists

From Stephen Westerholm’s little gem, Understanding Paul: The Early Christian Worldview of the Letter to the Romans (Baker, 2004), pages 33, 87–88:

The psalmists of the Bible found joy in the presence of God: an overwhelming sense that, wherever one found oneself, and whatever one’s circumstances, God is there — and God is good. The joy may be expressed, as the Psalms frequently enjoin, with music and dance and boisterous shouts. It may find voice in a quiet prayer of assurance: “When I awake, I am still with thee.” In any case, the psalmists repeatedly speak of discovering in the Eternal not only their provision and protection but also their heart’s delight:

Thou hast put gladness in my heart,

more than in the time

that their corn and their wine increased.

In thy presence is fullness of joy;

at thy right hand

there are pleasures for evermore.

Delight thyself also in the LORD;

and he shall give thee

the desires of thine heart.

Not incidental to the pleasure was the belief that the enjoyment was mutual:

He [God] delighteth not in the strength of the horse:

he taketh not pleasure in the legs of a man.

The LORD taketh pleasure in them that fear him,

in those that hope in his mercy.

The psalmists’ joy is rooted in their conviction that, circumstances notwithstanding, life is good, and that they have a share in its goodness, loved by the One who matters most. Praise, for them, is the natural, appropriate venting of joy: to praise the Lord is “fitting” and “good.”

And yet,

The psalmists who found such satisfaction in God’s “face” were fully aware of the darker aspects of life: is there anywhere a literature that more profoundly probes the lot of the despised, the slandered, the despondent, those ravaged by disease or war? God’s ways are often disturbingly mysterious even for the psalmists. They feel that at times he has “hidden” his “face,” and they cannot understand why.

Nonetheless, what prevails in the end is the unshakable faith in their bones, whatever the fate of their flesh, that underlying all is goodness, beyond human understanding but deserving of human trust: a goodness not only worth clinging to when all else fails, but more precious by far than anything else one might desire.

Fullness of Joy

Paul Tripp on Psalm 16 in The Problem of Good: When the World Seems Fine without God (P&R, 2014), 133:

The pleasures of the physical world are temporarily enjoyable, but the shelf life of their enjoyment is short. The taste of food is wonderful, but it does not linger long on your tongue. The delight of musical creativity is enjoyable, but the notes do not ring in your ears for very long. You sit on the edge of your seat during that powerful movie, but on the way home you are already planning for your next day at work.

Pleasure is pleasurable, but the pleasures of this right-here, right-now created world can never give you fullness of joy. God graces you with pleasure not to satisfy your heart, but to point you to where your searching heart will finally be satisfied. Joy is found in pleasure, but fullness of joy is to be found only in the One who created pleasure for your good and his glory.