“Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee.” (Augustine, Confessions (Book 1)
The longing of our hearts for something more, something beyond ourselves is powerful. Intuitively, we know that we need something to complete our broken hearts, minds, and spirits. Augustine rightly points out that our completion is found not in romance, wealth, nor learning but rather in the One who formed us.
I find myself pondering Augustine’s statement with great frequency. As a teenager, I felt this restlessness quite deeply, longing for something that might bring me peace; his words meant a great deal to me then.
The second part of that statement, “Our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee,” articulates the ultimate restoration provided by the Gospel: sinners finding redemption through the Redeemer. Our culture, however, tries to take a paring knife to it with two quick slices.
First, they try to pare away the last two words, “in Thee.” Satisfaction for our restlessness is proposed in any number of directions, each of them leading us to serve the creation rather than the Creator. A faint hope persists that satisfaction may be found apart from God, but that hope is false indeed. Faced with the ultimate failure of such pseudo-satisfactions, they take a second slice, paring away the next few words, “till they find rest,” so that we are left with the out-of-context lament that the Moderns so powerfully explored: “Our hearts are restless.”
That second slice removes not only God, but real hope as well, leaving us with a nihilistic worldview that craves only that which allows one to share one’s misery, as Mephistophilis so famously termed it in Kit Marlowe’s Dr. Faustus: Solamen miseris socios habuisse doloris (“misery loves company”). Faced with the choice between hopelessness and God, too often we choose despair and wallow in the torments that such a decision brings.
The beauty, though, of this season is that we are reminded of the context of Augustine’s observation: the Gospel itself, that God not only formed us but also that He Himself came to dwell among us so that He Himself might bring rest(oration) to our hearts. The Spirit haunts and hounds us until our restlessness converts into peace through Him.