Only Something Infinite Will Suffice

Only something infinite will suffice to satisfy our infinite emptiness.

(photo: Couleur, Pixabay/CC0)

“For money you can have everything, it is said. No, that is not true. You can buy food, but not appetite; medicine, but not health; soft beds, but not sleep; knowledge but not intelligence; glitter, but not comfort; fun, but not pleasure; acquaintances, but not friendship; servants, but not faithfulness; gray hair, but not honor; quiet days, but not peace. The shell of all things you can get for money. But not the kernel. That cannot be had for money.” —Arne Garborg, (1851-1924)

As pleasurable as sex often is, why would anyone think it is our only or most important motivator?

And if it were, it would follow that all humans, regardless of epoch or geography would similarly agree. But as Takeo Doi, a Japanese psychologist trained in Freudian theory, points out in his The Anatomy of Dependence, this isn't the case. In fact, Freudianism isn't an easy fit in Japanese society. Instead, he offers an alternative to Freudian dogmatism. Doi coined the word amae (甘え) from a Japanese verb amaeru. He suggests that the principle emotional motivator of the Japanese is to induce authority figures such as a parents, teachers, employers and spouses, to take care of the individual. Doi explains that amae is the noun form of amaeru, a Japanese verb he defines as meaning "to rely upon another's good will." He admits that this desire to be loved, which he likens to a dependency, is present in all children regardless of their ethnicity though Western culture seeks to instill a sense of independence in them while Japanese culture seeks to cultivate this feeling

Doi suggests we all want to make ourselves, both on a conscious and unconscious level, be taken care of by those more powerful than ourselves. We acknowledge on some level both our helplessness and our desire to be loved. Though he explains this as weakness of character, I see it as the very core of our humanity or rather, the healthy aspect of our human existence and spirituality. It isn't sex that motivates us. Instead, it is the impossible emptiness that exists inside all human beings and calls out to be filled. Both altruistic and anti-social and self-destructive behavior can be explained by this very real phenomenon. A Christian who is committed to his faith understands this.

If our species was the result of an uncaring and unintelligent Nature alone, she has shortchanged us immeasurably. We carry around infinite need, and nothing in nature can ever satisfy us — and any attempt at fulfilling ourselves with anything nature provides (e.g., drugs, promiscuity, materialism) is both dangerous and self-destructive. We need an infinite source of love to satisfy our immeasurable emptiness. As Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete often said, “Only something infinite will suffice.” And the only Infinite Source of the love available to satisfy our souls is God. God's love for us is fundamental for our lives and it raises important questions about who God is and who we are. Even whole-heartedly dedicating oneself to others is insufficient. If this was true, every social worker in the world would be skipping down the street singing his heart out in unprecedented joy. As it is, that profession has a huge turnover. Catholic priests, nuns, brothers and monks however do similar work to social workers, but they report being a great deal happier.

If sex is our principle Freudian motivator and aim, we are in trouble as a species, as there is no infinite supply of sex, and most of our attempts at procuring such stimulation are fraught with danger and frustration. The same goes for materialist acquisitiveness. Even the richest person in the world can't buy enough to make him happy. At best he can only buy things he thinks will make him happy. Seeking love, on the other hand, even an infinite supply of it, is a common everyday occurrence and readily possible. I believe that mankind is motivated, for good or bad, by this congenital need for love which is normally insatiable. At the core of our being, there is a great, yawning emptiness which is very familiar to existentialist philosophers and nihilists. Postmodernists do their best to ignore it but it remains, just beneath the tightly stretched denial. Some of us fill the void with drugs, alcohol, promiscuous sex, dangerous activities, compulsive lies, bragging, anger, vandalism and other self-destructive, sociopathic behavior. Some attempt at ignoring the pain and the emptiness inside them by indulging in narcissism, pride, obfuscation, sarcasm and/or degrading others.

If nature alone was the cause of this existential angst without offering any way to relieve ourselves of its pain then being alive is surely a particularly cruel fate. Evolution is usually by far more “thoughtful” when designing other biological forms and yet, we all carry this horrendous burden with us from the moment of birth, constantly empty, constantly lonely, constantly demanding more and more. Generally, nature designs biological systems with a mind toward adaptation. One wonders to what our existential emptiness is designed for. Surely there has been nothing in all of human existence that even comes close. If nature had planned for us to be this way, the least it could have done was to provide us with a means by which to alleviate our suffering just as we experience physical hunger and have the knowledge and means by which to alleviate that hunger. Our emptiness is unfathomably infinite. It seems that our infinite emptiness needs an infinite source to fulfill it. As we conceive of God, He is an infinite source of love, contentment, peace and justice. It seems like a perfect match. In fact, if an evolutionary biologist were to look for a better adaptation in a living system, one could hardly imagine a better counterpart.

As our needs are infinite, we constantly seek out stimulation, material possessions and exotic experiences to satisfy us but like the child at the seashore trying to fill a hole in the sand with the ocean, he will never succeed. It is what George Herbert (1593-1632) referred to as our “restlessness” in his poem The Pulley:

When God at first made Man,
Having a glass of blessings standing by—
Let us (said He) pour on him all We can;
Let the world's riches, which dispersed lie,
Contract into a span.
So strength first made a way,
Then beauty flow'd, then wisdom, honour, pleasure:
When almost all was out, God made a stay,
Perceiving that, alone of all His treasure,
Rest in the bottom lay.
For if I should (said He)
Bestow this jewel also on My creature,
He would adore My gifts instead of Me,
And rest in Nature, not the God of Nature:
So both should losers be.
Yet let him keep the rest,
But keep them with repining restlessness;
Let him be rich and weary, that at least,
If goodness lead him not, yet weariness
May toss him to My breast.

Only something infinite will suffice to satisfy our infinite emptiness. The only infinite source conceivable is God. Our inability to help ourselves out of the emotional void in which we find ourselves points to the existence of Someone Who can. Those lacking in maturity and wisdom think that excessive indulging will heal this breech but like any drug, the abuser needs more and more in order to attain the same high. There is nothing here on earth that is capable of doing that especially considering no one has pointed it out yet. On the other hand, belief in God has been shown to do this exactly; the saints listed above attest to that. Faith in God pulls us from our impotent, narcissistic despair and leads us into loving others, act justly and to live in humble fellowship with God (Micah 6:8). Christ is the Healer of Souls―That Infinite Source Which heals our infinite need. Joy, the result of a personal encounter with God, is an internalized happiness, which isn't dependent upon the situation in which one finds oneself.