My wife and I have now had the chance to attend a couple of performances by the excellent Atlanta Symphony Orchestra where we listened to the rarely performed Symphony No. 5 by British composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams. I have always enjoyed his music, but about halfway through each performance, I found myself wondering why I find it so gripping, soothing, and even a tad, well, unsettling. Throughout his music, there is a sense of unease with flashes of calm or peace or whatever you want to call it breaking through.
Vaughan Williams wrote with a sense of the ominous on the horizon. As a medic during the First World War, looking across the shredded French landscape, he surely considered that something so big was happening as to change the world forever. He struggled to reconcile something so heartbreaking with what was once pristine. This violent transition signaled the sad reality of loss.
These thoughts fueled his Symphony No. 3 also known as the Pastoral Symphony, which he completed after the war. Beset by trench warfare, Vaughan Williams produced one of the most memorable pieces of 20th century music: at turns slow and somber, haunting and full of melancholy, and yet containing moments of hope and even triumphalism. The piece aurally paints a picture of beauty slipping away never to be recovered. In so much of his music, one finds a sense of sadness. But even more than this is the constant feeling of universal longing. Longing for a place we once had or shared. Longing for a time unmarred by panic, whether made by humanity or nature. Longing toward restoration and wholeness.
One of the Bible’s most gripping descriptions of longing comes from Deuteronomy 28:32. With dramatic examples, Moses describes life as it might look apart from God, broken and marred. “Your sons and your daughters shall be given to another people, while your eyes look on and fail with longing for them all the day.” Here the Hebrew term translates “longing” (kaleh) to “failing with desire.”
What a vision for us today. We see a way of life we have enjoyed for a century, and we feel it slipping out of our hands. Falling stocks, a frozen housing market, retirement plans jettisoned, weddings and funerals conducted with no one in attendance. Not the life we were brought up to expect or for which most of us saved and looked toward. We long for what we thought was promised us. But right now, we look upon all of this with failing eyes.
The last weeks have been surreal. Videos of over-capacity emergency rooms. Government officials coming to grasp how to navigate an unseen enemy. Social distancing. “Stay-in-place” orders. Businesses closing. Death unfolding in real time. To be sure, we are not embroiled in a global military conflict. But we have lost our sense of normalcy, and we are grasping with how to cope with it.
The notion that we would long for something necessarily implies that we are not satisfied. C.S. Lewis is well-known for suggesting that our longings indicate that we are made for another place and time.(1) It is a natural state for our souls to long for something, and our earthly desires serve to alert us to a real, if eventual, fulfillment of what truly satisfies.
Continue reading Ravi Zacharias Ministry – Longing for Restoration