Still Haven’t Found What You’re Looking For? C.S. Lewis, Bono and the Argument from Desire via crossexamined.org
by Ted Wright
For better or worse I was a child of the 80’s, and during that time a new rock band came on the scene that changed pop music, both in Britain, America and eventually the world. I immediately loved their sound as soon as I heard it. Their style was unique, and the lyrics had a real message. Their songs resonated much deeper than the typical pop tunes being played on the radio. That band was U2 from Dublin Ireland.
In May of 1987 the band released their 5th studio album titled “The Joshua Tree.” The second track on that album is a “gospel-esque” song that producer Danny Lanois encouraged Bono to write. The song is “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” The song has been acclaimed by many critics and publications as one of the greatest songs of all time.
What makes this song so unique and timeless? Sure it’s Bono’s excellent vocals, Adam Clayton’s chilled-out bass, and the Edge’s astral guitar licks, but I believe that it is also something more, something much deeper. The song touches on a truth that is embedded in all people – a deep sense of longing and desire for something that this present world cannot fully satisfy. Here is the second refrain.
“I have kissed honey lips
Felt the healing in her finger tips
It burned like fire
(I was) burning inside her.
I have spoke with the tongue of angels
I have held the hand of a devil
It was warm in the night
I was cold as a stone.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.
But I still haven’t found
What I’m looking for.”
The song is written in the style of a gospel-lament which has it roots in the Psalms, the Lamentations of Jeremiah and later, African-American Spirituals. So, what is the singer lamenting?
He is lamenting that no matter what he tries or what he does, ultimate satisfaction isn’t found in this world. His satisfaction must come from somewhere else. He was made for something else, for somewhere else, or perhaps for someone else. He is a pilgrim and a sojourner on this earth, “just a passing through.”
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis articulates an argument for the existence of God based on our dissatisfactions as well as our deepest desire, which sounds a lot like the lyrics of U2’s song. I would even argue that the core idea is the virtually the same.
Lewis’s argument goes like this:
…A baby feels hunger; well there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world
Philosopher Peter Kreeft has done us a great service and re-formulated Lewis’s argument from desire into a syllogism that might be a little easier to follow.
Every natural innate desire corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire
But there exists in us a desire which nothing in time, nothing on earth and no creature can satisfy.
Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth, and creatures which can satisfy this desire.
This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”
Premise 1 – Every natural desire corresponds to some real object that can satisfy that desire
The key here is that every natural desire has a corresponding reality. The implication is that there is a distinction between two kinds of desires – natural desires and artificial desires. Everyone has natural desires, like the desire for water, food, sleep, friendship (companionship), etc…, but we also have desires for things that are artificial, or conditioned by society – like the desire to be famous, or the desire to possess superpowers (like one of the Avengers), or the desire to own a Ferrari.
However, with the artificial desires we don’t recognize a condition called “Ferrari-lessness” which corresponds to, say a natural desire like the desire for water (thirst), or for food (hunger).
Premise 2 – But there exists a desire in us which nothing in time, nothing on earth and no creature can satisfy.
This premise is existentially true, and either one senses it or not. It can’t be forced. It may be pointed out, however, that even though one might not sense a desire for God, it doesn’t mean that the desire is non-existent, just buried under the concerns, the worries and the busyness of life.
The Southern novelist Walker Percy commenting on “the search” in his classic novel The Moviegoer (1961) touches on this idea:
The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be on to something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.
Something is missing, so we despair. Indeed, as Thoreau writes, “…most men live lives of quiet desperation” (Civil Disobedience & other Essays), or like mythical, Greek Sisyphus, we “feel” the futility and the endless drudgery of work & life and deeply sense that there must be “something more.”
If God is the ultimate source of joy and fellowship, then nothing but Him and Him alone (& life with Him forever) will satisfy the heart of every person.
This truth has been articulated by many different voices throughout history.
“For He [God] has set eternity in the hearts of men…” – King Solomon (Ecclesiastes 3:11)
“Thou, O Lord hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee” – St. Augustine (The Confessions)
“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.” – Blaise Pascal (Pensees)
“Not to be onto something is to be in despair” – Walker Percy (The Moviegoer)
“I still haven’t found what I’m looking for” – U2 (Bono)
Peter Kreeft brilliantly summarizes premise 2 this way:
The second premise requires only honest introspection. If someone defies it and says, “I am perfectly happy playing with mud pies, sports cars, or money, or sex, or power,” we can only ask, “Are you really?” But we can only appeal, we cannot compel… Even the atheist Jean-Paul Sartre admitted that “there comes a time when one asks, even of Shakespeare, even of Beethoven, ‘Is that all there is?’”
Premise 3 – Therefore there must exist something more than time, earth, and creatures which can satisfy this desire.
Premise 4 – This something is what people call “God” and “life with God forever.”
Admittedly, the conclusion of this argument is not an “air-tight” case for the God of the Bible, but it is certainly a stepping stone. When the argument from desire is placed alongside of other arguments for God’s existence, such as the cosmological argument, and the teleological argument, then I think it makes a pretty compelling case worthy of serious consideration.
Kreeft says, “What it proves is an unknown X, but an unknown whose direction, so to speak, is known. This X is more: more beauty, more desirability, more awesomeness, more joy.”
Our lifelong nostalgia, our longing to be reunited with something in the universe from which we now feel cut off, to be on the inside of some door which we have always seen from the outside, is no mere neurotic fancy, but the truest index of our real situation. ~ C.S. Lewis (The Weight of Glory, pg. 42)
Truth, Goodness & Beauty
It may be that beauty, and our desire for infinite beauty and truth and goodness is where we feel the unfulfilled longing the most, as Kreeft brilliantly explains:
There are three things that will never die: truth, goodness and beauty. These are three things that we all need, and need absolutely, and know we need absolutely. Our minds want not only some truth and some falsehood, but all truth, without limit. Our wills want not only some good and some evil, but all good, without limit. Our desires, imaginations, feelings or hearts just want not just some beauty and some ugliness, but all beauty without limit.
For these are three things that we will never get bored with, and never will, for all eternity, because they are three attributes of God, and therefore all God’s creation: three transcendental or absolutely universal principles of all reality. …Truth, goodness and beauty are ‘patches of Godlight’ here in the ‘Shadowlands.’ Their home is Yonder.
Christianity teaches that the only way to truly KNOW God is through Jesus Christ who came to reveal Him for Who He truly is.
“Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3)