In John 1:38, Jesus asks a question of two young men that I believe we all, at one time or another have asked ourselves. “What are you looking for?” So many of life’s greatest artistic and intellectual metaphors and allegories revolve around this very basic, yet very existential question. From the Lord of the Rings and the Chronicles of Narnia in literature to popular songs like U2’s appropriately named “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” those of us with any degree of spiritual intuition whatsoever have found ourselves asking ourselves this question; some of us, like yours truly are consumed by it.
What are we looking for? What does any of this mean? For many of us who have traveled extensively and lived in myriad diverse places, our travels and life experiences provide us with the insight that is needed to more holistically discern the fact that the answers do not lie in the places themselves. Those of us who have the added bonus of a solid spiritual foundation also become aware that true happiness will never be found in this world. It is easy to see how questions such as these can drive men to madness. In extreme cases it has led brilliant individuals to take their own lives. Perhaps it is the fact that we are created in Imago Dei that renders us incapable of avoiding obsession over wanting to understand and perceive the world as God does; this is what leads many people towards what is known as gnosis—the desire to pursue and comprehend deep spiritual mysteries. Ultimately, this too is a futile pursuit because, try as we might, we can never achieve this noble, though nevertheless inefficacious goal.
So, again I ask, what are we looking for? What is the purpose of life? Is it the pursuit of money? Careerism? A nice house, a car, a spouse, children and a household pet? I’m certainly not going to get on my soapbox and belittle these concepts. Only the individual can answer that question for themselves. But when Jesus asks the question, I have to wonder how one could answer it to His liking when it is evident to the casual observer that the priorities in that person’s life are material, rather than spiritual? Again, I am not looking to condemn anyone, rather I am merely challenging people to look inward as Jesus would have us do, for the sake of our eternal souls. When politics takes precedence over human decency and Christian charity, we become a ship lost at sea as a nation, morally speaking. When saving a few tax dollars is more important than providing basic human needs like food and healthcare to our fellow man, we are abandoning the Gospel message, whether we want to admit it or not. What we do with our lives holds great meaning–at least it ought to. How do we treat our neighbors? Are we quick to offer a helping hand, or are we quick to avert our eyes and walk away? Are we willing to give up everything to follow Jesus and have we even contemplated what that would truly mean?
Jesus asks each of us, “What are you looking for?” Bono acknowledged that Christ “broke the bonds, loosed the chains and carried the cross” to redeem us. He reaffirmed it by saying “you know I believe it,” but then followed that immediately by saying, “but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.” I think all of us find ourselves in that position on a daily basis. Intuitively—and for some of us, intellectually—we know that what we are looking for is never going to be found in this world because it simply doesn’t exist in this world. Yet for some reason, we continue to delude ourselves into believing that the happiness that only exists in Heaven lies just around the corner with a new car, a new pair of shoes, perhaps a new house, or in a new city; then we conquer those things by acquiring them and what happens? Do they bring us the bliss that we were certain they would? Never! Because they cannot. Jesus is found in each one of us; we were created in the image of God and He did not mince words when He told us that what we did to the least of His people, we did to Him. We can see Jesus in the faces of our brothers and sisters. Who are our brothers and sisters? All who do God’s will, Jesus tells us (Matthew 12:48-50). The stranger; the homeless man; the immigrant; the non-believer; even those who would allow Satan to work through them. They, too are our brothers and sisters and while we are still breathing, we have an obligation to show them love, compassion and kindness, for one never knows when they might be entertaining angels (Hebrews 13:2).
“What are you looking for?” If we do not see the answer to this question staring us in the face when Jesus asks it of us, we need to reassess our priorities and further contemplate the purpose for our existence.