Yesterday was is the 500th anniversary of the birth of George Herbert, a favourite poet of Jessica, and one of the greatest of theologians, if, as we ought, we define the term as being to talk about God. We proceed, as Herbert saw, from the consequences of the Fall. Once, mankind walked with God and saw His face, but we pursued the devices and desires of our own hearts, we thought to be as wise as God – an endeavour showing how foolish we are as a species. So we were banished, and we no longer see Him face to face. One consequence is that, like Isaiah we fear to see His holiness for we know we are men of unclean lips. And yet the Psalmist expresses what is in the hearts of all Christians when he writes
‘My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” / Your face, Lord, I will seek.’
Augustine says the same thing and extends it when he says that our hearts are restless until they find rest in God, and if we will, even for a moment, turn from the clamant noises we seek and which fill our ears, then our hearts too, will tell us this; the Spirit reaches out to us all, and we know that even though we are far off, God reaches out for us. George Herbert puts it well in his poem, The Pulley
But keep them with repining restlesnesse:
Let him be rich and wearie, that at least,
If goodnesse leade him not, yet wearinesse
May tosse him to my breast
That emptiness we strive so hard to keep at bay, is the longing to which we yield when we give in – as Herbert suggests, it is a natural process designed by God. When we think we know better, we strive and use our strength, as though we really can take the kingdom of heaven by storm. However, if we will strip away our pride of self, if we will receive him as a small child, then that balancing of which Herbert wrote, can take place.
Sometimes our theologising with our heads misses what our hearts tell us – which is that we are loved of God. Herbert caught our feelings so well here:
‘Love bade me welcome.
Yet my soul drew back
God, being love, does not, in the poem, accept our refusal to look on Him, but rather:
“Love took my hand, and smiling did reply, Who made the eyes but I?”’
Like the Prodigal, Herbert’s sinner cannot accept the love, but offers rather to be a humble servant – to which God/Love responds:
‘You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat / So I did sit and eat.’
If we will but ‘sit and eat’, then our restless heart will find fulfillment in Him.