On physical objects

Miroslav Volf ponders creation, enjoyment, and the significance of gift.



Miroslav Volf ponders creation, enjoyment, and the significance of gift.


The idea that creation is somehow given to us by God and that precisely that in which we find pleasure … We are sentient beings, we enjoy [the] life of our senses and that is an extraordinarily beautiful thing. But the idea that, as sentient human beings, we are also always beyond the horizon of what we immediately experience, right, we are not simply satisfied to enjoy the thing as it is. The thing means something to us, we go beyond that. And that which is beyond is precisely the giver of the gift that has given this to us.

We can illustrate this with the idea of most of [the] ordinary objects of life [that] are fascinating, interesting to us, are kind of human objects, because somehow not just human activity but the presence of human beings has attached itself to them. I give an illustration of a gold-nibbed pen that my father has given to me. Every time I take this pen into my hands, I have taken not just an object, I am taking a presence of a beloved person and I relate to that person. I think all objects are such objects, and to the extent that we have loving relationships with others, including loving relationship with God, all objects, the entirety of objects, come to mean something more profound to us than otherwise they would.

For instance, I might want to have a new iPhone, but I don’t want another gold-nibbed Pelican pen. I want that pen, right? Because it’s that pen that is a medium for me of the presence of another. In other words, you can think of nurturing contentment – which I think in the context of ecological crisis is so incredibly important for us today – you can nurture contentment without, in some ways, cheating yourself of enjoyment. To the contrary, contentment can be a modality of enjoying particular objects and the world as a whole, much more than if we constantly want to transgress boundaries and have new objects to enjoy as if we can somehow fill ourselves by being insatiable.