Wonder and Longing
People underestimate themselves. And we do it on purpose.
The New Testament talks about God living inside of us. This claims an enormity of capacity within the human being. According to the bold claim, Timelessness and Boundlessness can actually fit inside a person.
I’ve always wondered at the idea. As a child, I asked my mother, “Jesus was a man, right?” “Yes,” she replied. “Well,” I said, “then how can a grown man fit inside a little boy’s heart?” She tried to explain it to me. Something about human language being a poor metaphor of invisible metaphysical realities. The explanation eluded me. But the wonder? Oh, the wonder. Now that has remained upon me.
Sometimes, in peculiar moments, I feel it rise. Something deeply buried, an almost forgotten part of me lifts and cries out, deep calling to deep. Then I remember – I remember the one truly wondrous reality about me: I am made for God. Little old me. Somewhere, I turn it over and over in my mind… somewhere folded into my human frame is a hidden compartment – a compartment shaped and proportioned for God. It is odd to think of yourself like that. I am a curiosity that angels long to peer into.
What is the experience of wonder like?
Wonder is unnerving. I mean that quite literally. Wonder ‘undoes’ what the nerves do. We use our nervous system to navigate the finite, created world. Our senses guide us with smell, feel and sight. Our nerves orient us like a compass. But wonder is what happens to a compass at the North Pole. It spins. When a compass encounters that which it is based upon – the true North – it is disoriented. Similarly, when a human being’s bundle of nerves, senses and mental functioning encounter what they are based upon – then we are disoriented too. When we encounter our True North – we spin.
Now the ‘spin of wonder’ is a juxtaposition of excitement and fear. On the one hand, we experience a kind of mesmerizing awe – we are close to Mystery Itself. We experience a quickening thrill – we are close to Beauty Itself. But on the other hand, we experience a shuddering insecurity – the Mystery is too deep – the Beauty is too piercing. We become disoriented and insufficient. Isaiah declared, upon seeing God, “I am undone.” Wonder is an ‘undoing’ experience that produces both fear and fascination. Our nervous system (including our cognition) is overwhelmed. Unable to bear the ambivalence we turn away. We flee that which we are made for; we flee from ourselves.
That is what I meant when I said that people underestimate themselves on purpose. We all are intuitively fascinated with our capacity for God. We feel the inner urge to open ourselves to it. But we also know that to do so will cause that dread spin. So we are hung in ambivalence – two powerful urges pulling at us. One urge is to fling open the doors of that hidden compartment, allowing Mystery and Beauty to fill us. The other urge is to stay at arm’s length – just close enough for our compass needle to tremble but not close enough to spin us out of an old life and into the new.
Roger Edwards joined The Barnabas Center in 1991. In addition to counseling individuals and couples, Roger teaches and leads discussion groups about applying the Bible to everyday life. He is a licensed professional counselor, holds a master’s degree in biblical counseling from Grace Theological Seminary in Indiana and earned a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is married to Jean, and they have seven children.