I loved camp meeting when I was young. I love it now. The human yearning to connect is inextinguishable, a driving force that will be satisfied at any cost. That’s what made camp meeting so great. People. People together. People together with a common purpose. People together whose common purpose calls them to strive for God and His goodness.This always reminds me what I learned about human nature one summer at camp. One of my best boyhood friends was a camp meeting friend, and we had a mutual friend there who was so very eager for connection he drove people away. Even then, at age 12 or so, I could feel the compassion, dismay, and pain of watching someone who tried so hard to fill the void that he alienated the ones who could fill it.
Who knows all the reasons for this? It is complicated and simple at the same time. When we deeply lack a basic human need we will do almost anything to fill the need. Bodily appetites reveal this. Deprived of something we have long since relied upon – say, sugar — we do whatever we can to meet the need. The body will be satisfied.
And so will the soul. But modern thinking has denied the idea of soul for so long we no longer know what to do with those deep longings. So we try to deny the need or possibility of meeting it, and only compound the problem. For example, discouraged people often can’t bring themselves to get outside, work on a project, or share their needs with another. Yet those things often help the problem, and avoiding them only makes it worse. The malady causes us to avoid the cure.
It is Real Everywhere and for Everyone
This came to mind as I remembered a young college student I knew. He was talented and strong, well-loved and able to love in return. Hard worker, athletic, good-looking. He had learned well how to connect but also had a tender intensity that made him deeply vulnerable. We all have that in various measure, but he was more intense than average.
As I awoke in the night this was on my mind. We do not really know what to do when our deepest needs go unmet. We need other people, yet we drive them away. What’s more, as important as they are, others cannot meet those deepest needs. They are merely a help to it. In some ways they help us go deeper by revealing, in their inadequacy, that there must be something – some One – we cannot live without.
This shattering truth is revealed in the poem Hound of Heaven. The author, Francis Thompson, was addicted to opium, a desperate situation in the London streets of the late 1800’s. He could not get free and his famous poem pictures the pursuit of God. Thompson sought solace, connection, reality in everything, and found, in turn, that it all left him empty. Opium was simply another way of seeking the ultimate, leaving him more desperate still. And in it all he was rejecting that which he most deeply needed.
The young college student was in the same boat. All the substitutes – anger, relationships, long hours of satisfying work, felt good but left him empty. He needed something more but he kept driving It away. In pursuit of reality he looked everywhere where it is not, placing expectations that could never be met. Those who loved him “gave him room” and felt the pain without knowing what to do.
This is the human problem and we all are mired in it. That which we need most we refuse to believe will really satisfy. We deny the desire and we deny the answer, and we are left with ourselves in our messes, scoffing at the possible answers not least for the humility required to live into them.
Thompson finally found the answer was God, the living One who sought him without stopping, the Connection at the center of his deepest longing which he feared and loathed with intensity equal to the need. This One never quit pursuing and Francis never quit running until all options were tried and found wanting. He eventually died in his addiction, for he had trained his body well. But when he had been delivered for a time it was through the faint and dim reflection of God given by the editor and his wife who took him in and cared for him. This showed the reality of the living God, one who is connected in His very being and made us to be so as well. When they connected with Francis and he with them that love of God pursuing him had, in some sense, found him and he it. And it began to meet that insatiable longing of his soul.
God is the Only Answer
Man cannot live without God. Augustine put it, “He has made us for himself and we cannot rest until we rest in Him.” For my camp meeting friend, the young man I’ve worked with from time to time, my wife and friends and loved ones, for me — we cannot live without God. The modern experiment to expunge Him from the world of reality leads to all kinds of pathological attempts to replace God, and they all leave us more empty still. Drinking salt water is no answer to thirst.
“Come to the fountain there’s healing in Jesus” says the old church song, often heard at those camp meetings. That was the call and I’m glad I heard it, a claim that there was indeed Someone who could heal the human spirit and meet the human need. When we find Him all else begins to fall into its place. When we reject Him, nothing else can ever really make sense.
I am quite aware the skeptic has little time for this, the nominal believer or casual agnostic much the same. I cannot pretend certainty nor perfect practice – no one can. But I believe. And I invite the skeptic to re-consider.
Along the way we find it is we ourselves, more than the possibility of God, of whom we should be skeptical. We may answer by saying there is no ultimate answer. Yet that answer itself would be an ultimate answer, so we have a logical conundrum. An infinite, personal God who transcends while at the same time being with, meets the life-sized conundrum necessarily and perfectly. Maybe, just maybe, He is.
Come and see. Dare the life of faith. You will not be disappointed.
Randy Huff and his wife lived for 5 years in Roanoke (Hollins) where they raised 2 sons. Randy served as Dean of Students at a Christian school and then worked in construction. For the last 8 years he has served as pastor of a church in North Pole, Alaska.