“Please understand.” “Don’t misunderstand me.” Humans desire almost more than anything to be understood and to understand. As a very wise man I heard put it, humans fear loneliness more than anything else. Loneliness is not merely being alone. One can be excruciatingly lonely in a room full of people. Loneliness is rather an unfulfilled longing not to be heard, but to be understood – and that with at least a little bit of affirmation. It is almost as important to a person to understand other people; to know, “Why?” To understand another person gives a sense of “closeness” with that person because you recognize the very things he/she is trying to communicate. You have a deep experience in common. Not only that, but you as the listener realize with relief that others have undergone the same emotional torture, joy, love, thought - the whole gamut of feelings and experience.
I am firmly convinced that a mutual understanding is pretty near the most blissful experience on earth. When two people understand each other there is a feeling (false and deceptive though it prove) of security, worth, ecstasy – oh! I can’t even explain it. To have another person communicate their thoughts to you without restraint, as though they wanted you to understand – oh! It is joy to drink in. You just wish from the depths of your soul that they would continue, keep going, not cap again the well of delight. And when another person, especially if it is that same person, will listen to you, and not simply listen but truly understand what you attempt to communicate, there is such a sense of value – they value what you say, they want to hear you say it, whether you are perfect or not makes no difference. Perhaps I am hallucinating to think that such a relationship could possibly exist between two mortals on this fallen earth. But this is a longing, a craving of humanity: understanding.
Considering the cry of the human heart for understanding always brings to mind a scene from Fiddler on the Roof, though it’s been many years since we rented the film. The (I think) third eldest daughter dared to marry a Christian Russian Gentile and is consequently shunned by her father. As he reviews memories alone in a frozen, wind-swept, muddy field, he hears a timid, “Father?” Glancing up, he sees his daughter standing there, a plea for forgiveness, understanding, and reconciliation plainly written across her anxious countenance. I can’t remember exactly whether he makes any response, but I do remember that instead of reconciliation, he rouses himself angrily and turns his back to his once beloved daughter, leaving her alone. Her anguished, longing cry of pain, despair, and love rends through the night as she sinks on her knees to the frigid earth, broken and shattered by a rebuffed plea for understanding.
This concept makes Christ’s agony on the cross all the more frightening and excruciating. When Christ was forsaken he was bereft of understanding. At the very moment when he longed to pour out his soul – to express the pangs he underwent, and be understood – to his Father, his Father turned away. So we hear the agony of his cry, “My God, My God! Why have you forsaken me?” Why? I don’t understand! You’ve left me. I want so much to be understood! This is often our cry too; at times when we despair of comfort and understanding and we feel as if God has abandoned us. Wherever we grope, we cannot seem to feel His presence, yet He is near. He has never left us, nor will he. For all our struggling to search Him out, we cannot. He searches us out and gathers us in his arms. For He forsook His own Son so that He will never forsake us. We may cry, “Why have you forsaken me?” but the reality is that God has not “left us as orphans” – He comes to us. In spite of our sense of abandonment, in spite of our failure to understand, He comes and he understands. He understands better than any sinful man could ever understand.
When comes the intense, soul-wrenching longing to understand and be understood, I can cling to this – there’s really nothing else to cling to. For as another very wise man has said, Christ may act as though he is going farther so that we will beg him to stay. And he does stay. He will not leave us. He enters our house and becomes host and meal, serving us with himself. For he took upon himself, all our sinful misunderstandings and hurtful, painful words by which we have wounded our brothers and have ourselves been wounded. For these he suffered separation from his Father – a rift in the mutual understanding the Trinity shares from the beginning. By this soul-searing wound I am healed: both soul and body. And all longing of my heart will finally be fulfilled at the marriage feast of the lamb when I will understand even as I am understood. “I am my Love’s. My Beloved is mine.” He is the bridegroom, and I, by his grace, by the washing of regeneration by the Holy Spirit, am his radiant bride, free from all spot and blemish that so mar and disfigure me and the rest of the Church in the sight of the world.