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A Profound Challenge to Materialism, Longing Is Our “Inconsolable Secret” 

Photo: C. S. Lewis, by Asar Studios/Alamy (Photo by Hans Wild/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images).

In support of the conviction that, “Mind, not matter, is the source and crown of creation,”1 we offer evidence of intelligent design found in the parameters of nature that enables life as we know it to flourish on Earth. Life itself, with its information-rich genetic code and its irreducibly complex biological systems, points to a level of design far surpassing human accomplishments. The human mind, with its creative abilities and abstract reasoning powers, is difficult to explain in terms of unguided interactions of molecular components and provides further evidence in support of Mind, rather than matter, being primary in the creation of life and the cosmos.

Another aspect of the human mind, appearing in contrast to intelligence and rationality, contributes deeply to our being human. It is not emotional, although it can stir our emotions; it is not our imaginations, although it engages them; it is not merely a response to sensory input, but it can catch us off-guard when certain sights, sounds, or smells affect us through our senses.

The Truest Compass

What I am referring to can be described as longing. At times, our longings may be the truest compass toward a reality beyond the spacetime finitude of this physical universe.

Can you remember ever seeing or hearing something that produced an unexpected longing for a reality beyond anything you have ever actually known? In every other aspect of our lives, our desires correspond to things that would fulfill those desires. If we long for companionship, it’s possible for that longing to be fulfilled. If we desire rest, we can sleep. If we are hungry, we can eat and be satisfied. But what about a longing that doesn’t seem to have any fulfillment in this life? Does this mean the longing is empty, even false? Or does it suggest we are longing for something that does exist, but it’s something beyond this world?

Canceled Science, p. 196

C. S. Lewis, in speaking of “this desire for our own far-off country,” admits that in probing the experience of longing, he is,

trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you — the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves….We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name.2

If physical desires, such as hunger, rightly indicate that we were meant to be satisfied with food, then the longing for something that transcends even our most lavish experiences of abundance must also indicate an attainable fulfillment we have never yet tasted and without which we cannot be fully satisfied. Stated oppositely, if materialism truly describes existence, then it is not to be expected that creatures derived from purely material processes should experience longings that cannot be satisfied by the senses in response to the material environment or physical input.

The physical environment, however, perceived through our senses, is often the means by which these longings for something more arise in our minds. 

A friend of mine recounts walking on a familiar path along a river through a park. The sunlight was filtering through the leaves of the trees overhead, and in that moment, she felt pierced with longing, and that there must be something beyond — a transcendent power, something or someone far greater than herself. It is easy to dismiss such an experience in others, until it happens to you.

Canceled Science, 197

Awoken by Physical Things

But, as C. S. Lewis points out with regard to the metaphysical desire that physical things can awaken within us, 

it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things — the beauty, the memory of our own past — are good images of what we really desire; but…they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited.3

What lies at the heart of these intangible longings within us? As a compass, they can direct us homeward when the incessant tolling of naturalistic messages springing from evolutionary theory drowns our sense of meaning. In his inimitable prose, C. S. Lewis paints a picture of our longings arising from being found on the outside:

The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret.4

To Belittle Humans 

Voices in mainstream science often strive to belittle humans, rightly pointing out that we are stardust in an incomprehensibly vast universe. The weight of a trillion-trillion planets seems to bury any pretensions we might harbor of significance. Reductionistic approaches to reality seem to melt our very beings into an infinite sea of quantum interactions between particles. And yet, rumors of the demise of a transcendent, spiritual side to life are greatly exaggerated. Meaning exists, even if evidence to the contrary is all that some people can see. They have adopted a mindset that is blind to the very possibility of any meaning beyond the face value of things. 

You will have noticed that most dogs cannot understand pointing. You point to a bit of food on the floor; the dog, instead of looking at the floor, sniffs at your finger. A finger is a finger to him, and that is all. His world is all fact and no meaning….The critique of every experience from below, the voluntary ignoring of meaning and concentration on fact, will always have the same plausibility.5

Longings that are unsatisfied by the provisions of Earth are not just a weary response to our often stress-laden modern lifestyles; neither is the belief that what is inconsolable here will be fulfilled on the other side: “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”6 If desire signals fulfillment, then our life’s journey will not end at death, and the possibility of passing through the door into the reality of which all our life’s experiences were only sketches is more than a fabled tale.


  1. .
  2. C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses, (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 29-30.
  3. C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” ( 2001), 30-31.
  4. C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” ( 2001), 40.
  5. C. S. Lewis, “Transposition,” in The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses, (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 114.
  6. Hebrews 13:14.