alien righteousness

“this yearning for an eternal order” – Herman Bavinck (1854-1921)

“This desiderium aternitatis, this yearning for an eternal order, which God has planted in the heart of man, in the inmost recesses of his being in the core of his personality, is the cause of the indisputable fact that everything which belongs to the temporal order cannot satisfy man. He is a sensuous, earthly, limited, and mortal being, and yet he is attracted to the eternal and is destined for it. It is no profit to a man that he should gain wife and children, houses and fields, treasures and property, or, indeed, the whole world, if in the gaining, his soul should suffer loss (Matt. 16:26). For the whole world cannot balance the scale against the worth of a man. There is no one so rich that he can by any means redeem the soul of his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him: the redemption of the soul is too precious for any creature to achieve (Ps. 49:7-9) (19). 

…The same holds true of art. Art, too, is a gift of God. Just as the Lord Himself is not truth and holiness alone but also glory, and one who spreads the beauty of His name abroad over all His works, so it is He, too, who by His Spirit equips the artists with wisdom and understanding and knowledge in all manner of workmanship (Ex. 31:3 and 35:31). Art is therefore in the first place an evidence of man’s ability to do and to make. This ability is spiritual in character and it gives expression to his deep longings, his high ideals, and his insatiable craving for harmony. Besides, art in all its works and ways conjures up an ideal world before us, in which the discords of our existence on earth are purged in a gratifying harmony. Thus a beauty is disclosed which in this fallen world had been obscured by the wise but is discovered to the simple eye of the artist. And because art thus paints for us a picture of an other and higher reality, it is a comfort in our life, it lifts the soul up out of consternation, and fills our hearts with hope and joy.

But, though it is much that art can accomplish, it is only in the imagination that we can enjoy the beauty which art discloses. Art cannot close the gulf between the ideal and the real. It cannot make the yonder of its vision the here of our present world. It shows us the glory of Canaan from a distance, but it does not usher us into the better country nor make us citizens of it. Art is much, but it is not everything. It is not, as a man of distinction in its domain once called it, the holiest and noblest thing, the one and only religion and the one and only salvation of man. Art cannot reconcile sin. It cannot cleanse us of our pollution. And it is not able even to dry our tears in the griefs of life…” (21)

The conclusion, therefore, is that of Augustine, who said that the heart of man was created for God and that it cannot find rest until it rests in his Father’s heart. Hence all men are really seeking after God, as Augustine also declared, but they do not all seek Him in the right way, nor at the right place. They seek him down below, and He is up above. They seek Him on the earth, and He is in heaven. They seek him afar, and He is nearby. They seek Him in money, in property, in fame, in power, and in passion; and He is to be found in the high and holy places, and with him that is only of a contrite and humble spirit (Isa. 57:15). But they do not seek Him, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him (Acts 17:27). They seek Him and at the same time they flee Him. They have no interest in a knowledge of His ways, and yet they cannot do without Him. They feel themselves attracted to God and at the same time repelled by Him.

In this, as Pascal so profoundly pointed out, consists the greatness and the miserableness of man. He longs for truth and is false by nature. He yearns for rest and throws himself from one diversion upon another. He pants for a permanent and eternal bliss and seizes on the pleasures of a moment. He seeks for God and loses himself in the creature. He is a born son of the house and he feeds on the husks of the swine in a strange land. He forsakes the fountain of living waters and hews out broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13). He is a hungry man who dreams that he is eating, and when he awakes finds that his soul is empty; and he is like a thirsty man who dreams that he is drinking, and when awakes finds that he is faint and that his soul has appetite (Isa. 29:8).

Science cannot explain this contradiction in man. It reckons only with his greatness and not with his misery, or only with his misery and not with his greatness. It exalts him too high, or it depresses him too far, for science does not know of his Divine origin, nor of his profound fall. But the Scriptures know of both, and they shed their light over man and over mankind; and the contradictions are reconciled, the mists are cleared, and the hidden things are revealed. Man is an enigma whose solution can be found only in God” (22-23, Ch: Man’s Highest Good).

Bavinck, Herman. Our Reasonable Faith. Grand Rapids, Michigan: WM. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1956.

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