Tuesday, May 7, 2013

The Loss of Wonder



"He who is a stranger to wonder is a stranger to God, for God is wonderful everyway, and everywhere, and everyhow." -- C.H. Spurgeon 

Many years ago, my favorite television show was The Wonder Years. It was about the life and times of a young boy named Kevin Arnold and his journey to manhood. It told the bitter-sweet tale about coming of age and leaving childhood behind. Implicit in the show's title is the notion that childhood is a time full of wonder, but the day will inevitably come when that sense of wonder is lost forever. Although the story was fiction, it did what all good fiction does, it resonated with real life.

Bertrand Russell, near the end of his life, lamented his loss of wonder when he said, "There is darkness without and when I die there will be darkness within. There is no splendour, no vastness anywhere, only triviality for a moment, and then nothing."

Bertrand Russell was a brilliant and accomplished man. He was an intellectual of the highest caliber who wore many hats. He was a highly regarded historian, philosopher, logician and mathematician. It should also be noted that Bertrand Russell was an atheist as well.

There was another brilliant man by the name of Charles Darwin who wrote about a similar loss of wonder in  his autobiography. He wrote:

"Up to the age of thirty, or beyond it, poetry of many kinds... gave me great pleasure, and even as a schoolboy I took intense delight in Shakespeare, especially in the historical plays… formerly pictures gave me considerable, and music very great delight. But now for many years I cannot endure to read a line of poetry: I have tried lately to read Shakespeare, and found it so intolerably dull that it nauseated me. I have also almost lost my taste for pictures or music… I retain some taste for fine scenery, but it does not cause me the exquisite delight which it formerly did… The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature."
It should be noted that Charles Darwin, who popularized the theory of evolution, also was an atheist.

But would it surprise you to learn that we find similar sentiments expressed in Scripture? They were written by King Solomon who was one of the wisest men who ever lived. In the book of Ecclesiastes, it is evident that Solomon had experienced a loss of wonder as well:
Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity [meaningless].-- Ecclesiastes 1:2
All things are wearisome, more than one can say. The eye never has enough of seeing nor the ear its fill of hearing. What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. -- Ecclesiastes 1:8-9
For what does a person receive for all his toil and in the longing of his heart with which he toils under the sun? All his days are painful, his labor brings grief, and his heart cannot rest at night. This also is vanity! -- Ecclesiastes 2:22-23
I share here only a brief portion of Ecclesiastes. But there is much cynicism and angst expressed throughout its twelve chapters. It should also be noted that, for a long period of time, Solomon lived in open rebellion against God.

Certainly, these noteworthy men are not alone in their loss of wonder. We all feel that same loss, to one degree or another. People have disappointed us, we have disappointed ourselves and others, and life has disappointed us. We tend to become more cynical and jaded with each passing year. In fact, this is usually considered a mark of sophistication. We buy the t-shirt that says, "Been there, done that" and grow old. There is nothing left to impress, nothing left to move the heart, we've seen it all, and we are often left with despair in the quiet hours of the night. But the truth of the matter is this; even though the world is fallen, and even though we are fallen, creation is still full of wonder. God, in His common grace, has seen to it.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. --Psalms 19:1b-4a

Jesus taught that we can learn something about God by considering His creation. He told us to consider the lilies (Luke 12:27), to consider the sparrows (Matthew 6:26, 10:29), to consider the grass of the field (Luke 12:28), and even to consider each other (Matthew 7:9-11). Creation is crying out to us about the glory of God, if we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear. But if we lose our sense of wonder, we will be blind to God's glory.

So how do we lose our sense of wonder? It is because we are fallen creatures. Our hearts grow increasingly hard and dull because of sin, and like an atrophied muscle, it loses the ability for wonder. A hard heart loses its sensitivity to God and man. Sin causes us to lose a sense of awe and wonder before the God who gave us life and holds our breath in His hand this very moment.


The common joys of life should draw our hearts to God, but somehow we lose the ability to even notice them. If we were stripped of the things we take for granted, we would do anything to get them back. How often do we take our loved ones for granted? What price could you put on the beauty of a sunset or the glory of a sunrise? What would you pay to feel a cool breeze on your skin? When was the last time you stared up at the nighttime sky with wide-eyed wonder? The list is literally endless. All of these things are wonderful gifts from God, but how often do we delight in them? How often do we thank God for them? So much has been given to us, but we act like spoiled children. We ignore what we have been given because we are always looking for something else. We treat the priceless gifts of God as though they are worthless.

The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. - C. S. Lewis

When we lose our delight in God, eventually our capacity to delight in anything is diminished. As we saw in the lives of Bertrand Russell, Charles Darwin and King Solomon, their lives were devoid of meaning, joy and wonder. Whether we deny God's existence altogether like Russell and Darwin, or claim to believe in God but take no delight in him like Solomon, the end result is the same -- despair. If we do not delight in God, only two options remain; despair, or distraction from despair. Because ultimately, life without God is a vanity of vanities.

There is an interesting paradox in our cynicism and loss of wonder. Because even as we lose our sense of true wonder, we still crave it to the core of our souls, and we will look for it to the point of exhaustion. That is one reason why entertainment is such big business. When we lose our God given wonder, we will seek it in the artificial. We will look for it in amusement, sex, drugs, drink, food, you name it. We will gorge ourselves on things with diminishing returns in a futile attempt to fill our longing for wonder and delight. On some level, our pursuit of these things is a pursuit of joy. But if we do not find our ultimate joy and delight in God, we will look for it in trifles, and fill-up on junk food for the soul.


"… it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
-- C.S. Lewis
In our text this week (John 6), once again, we see that the people in Scripture are very much like us. Notice how quickly the crowd turned on Jesus. They had just witnessed the miracle of the loaves and fishes, they heard the words of Christ, and God incarnate walked among them. Glory and wonder was right before their eyes, but they turned away unimpressed. They left the Bread of Life to go fill up on trifles. How often have we done the same? How often have we turned away from the Bread of life for mud pies in the slums? No one is immune, even believers can lose their sense of wonder and turn to lesser things.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism begins with this question: What is the chief end of man? The Answer: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever. That is why we were created. To glorify God and find our deepest joy in Him. All lesser joys are not an end in themselves, they are just signposts that point us to the fountainhead of all Joy, God Himself.


So what can we do about a stony heart that has lost its sensitivity to God? We can repent and turn to the mercies of God. The Great Physician is willing and able to give us a tender heart of flesh if we acknowledge that we are sick and in desperate need.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit. -- Psalms 51:7-12
And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. -- Ezekiel 11:19-20


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