I’ve recently been reading through Tim Keller’s book Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God. That combination—awe and intimacy—has always been a central one as I reflect on my faith. On one hand, we approach God with awe, knowing how transcendent and majestic he is. But the wonder of the gospel is that we can approach that same God with boldness and intimacy, because he welcomes us as his sons and daughters.
This passage shows how our longings aren’t in competition with God; in fact, he is the source of all that is good and beautiful in this world.
In the Garden of Eden, we sinned and lost the face of God. This was the greatest disaster possible, because we were designed to live in the unique, perfect, marvelous light of his countenance. We have wandered empty and destitute. Moses realized that, in the beatific vision of the face of God, all his longings would be fulfilled. He asked to see it—but his sin was a barrier. In Jesus that barrier is taken away and we can begin to see, though only partially and by faith, the light of the glory of God in the face of Christ. When we meditate and pray the gospel and its attendant truths into our hearts with the power of the Spirit, those longings are slowly satisfied, and other things in life become gifts rather than gods, and we slowly but surely and radically change in our character and in all our relationships. Augustine expressed it perfectly in the Confessions. He realized that all the things he loved were in God, the headwater of all streams of desire:
But what do I love when I love you? Not the beauty of any body or the rhythm of time in its movement; not the radiance of light, so dear to our eyes; not the sweet melodies in the world of manifold sounds; not the perfume of flowers, ointments and spices; not manna and not honey; not the limbs so delightful to the body’s embrace: it is none of these things that I love when I love my God.
And yet when I love my God I do indeed love a light and a sound and a perfume and a food and an embrace—a light and sound and perfume and food and embrace in my inward self. There my soul is flooded with a radiance which no space can contain; there a music sounds which time never bears away; there I smell a perfume which no wind disperses; there I taste a food that no surfeit embitters; there is an embrace which no satiety severs. It is this that I love when I love my God. (Confessions 10.6.8)
(Tim Keller, Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God, pp. 184–185)