Ripping Open the Inconsolable Secret

As I continue this week of posting articles that have been particularly influential for me, tonight I post one which has almost become cliche in the Reformed blogosphere – to which I say, “Praise God!” The Weight of Glory is a sermon by C.S. Lewis that has been called by John Piper one the most influential pieces of writing he’s ever read. This sermon for Piper was key in his discovering for himself what he would later call Christian Hedonism.

For me, this Lewis sermon has been influential in a related, yet distinct way. When I first read it, my heart blazed. But this was because the sermon spoke so plainly of my inconsolable secret.

In speaking of this desire for our own faroff country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter. Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.

I do not know when it started, but as a child or teenager I began to experience a profound longing for something which I could not quite describe. I did not know what to call it. This longing came through nature, missionary biographies, late afternoon sunshine and wind, times of corporate worship, holidays, and times of private prayer. It was a longing for the new heavens and new earth, a longing for the resurrection, a longing to see the face of God. Lewis diagnoses this as a longing for glory, which is both honor and light, recognition from God and the chance to actually become a part of the eternal beauty.

This promise of resurrection glory continues to be one of the major themes which dominates my spiritual life, pulling me out of discouraging seasons time and again. If you are a believer who has never read The Weight of Glory, you can do so here. Or even if it’s just been a while, do your soul a favor. Stir up those bittersweet longings for another world that you can never quite shake nor suppress. Then rejoice that they are not empty longings. They are, for us believers, prophetic echoes of our future and true home.

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