“Yet, O LORD, you are our father;
we are the clay and you the potter:
we are all the work of your hands.”
In Game of Thrones, the HBO television series, there are competing religions. The newest on the scene is monotheistic and follows the “Lord of Light.” A prayer, of sorts, uttered by followers of this fictional religion is, “The night is dark and full of terrors.”
That can resonate with us as we look around our own world, at our own lives, or into our own hearts. Why so much evil, hate, and violence? Why so much illness, suffering, and death? Why so much selfishness, impatience, and judgement? Why so much darkness?
If that’s the way the world, our lives, and our hearts are, it could certainly lead to despair. But, if that’s the way the world, our lives, and our hearts are, it also raises the question, “Why should it be otherwise?” A number of philosophies and theologies have sought to lower our expectations and accept the brutish nature of human existence in order to become dispassionate or detached, gaining a sense of peace or striving for power. The only road to happiness, they say, is to accept things as they are.
But it doesn’t explain why we should expect or desire happiness to begin with. Where does that come from? Why do we want our world, our lives, or our own hearts to be better than they are? Why should we be happy? If it hasn’t already, I’m sure evolutionary theory or neuroscience will contribute to our understanding of happiness. Perhaps the desire to be happy provides some benefit to the survival of our species, but that really explains the how, not the deeper why.
I believe our desire for happiness is the work of the potter upon our souls. It is the mark of our creator in the clay pots of our being. It reveals within us something of the mystery of the image of God, who has formed us for happiness. Our desire for our world, our lives, and our hearts to be better reflects the life of the Holy Trinity within us. We were made for happiness because we were made for love.
The darkness is real, but even when we pray for God’s justice to be made manifest in our world, question why he let our loved one die, or struggle to forgive someone who has hurt us, these are signs that we were made for something more than darkness and terror. When we question in prayer, “How long, O Lord?,” we reveal that we were made by the very one we are questioning. We reveal that we were made for happiness in this life and we were made for more than just this life.
Our incompleteness now is a sign of our completeness then: the desire for happiness in this life opens the door to our hope for life eternal. With faith and love, hope points us to God and calls us to union with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the deepest darkness, hope lights our way. Advent is a season for us to recall this hope, to recognize once again the work of the potter on our souls and for our salvation. A light has shown in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. Dare we hope?