Here is the preface to the new edition of The Hunger for Significance: Seeing the Image of God in Man by R.C. Sproul, which is releasing March 4th.
A search can be fun—from hide-and-seek to hunting Easter eggs on the White House lawn; from looking for a hot spot where the fish are biting to the scavenger hunt at a Halloween party.
A search can be futile—from the ancient Diogenes examining the darkest corners of Athens with his lantern, looking in vain for an honest man, to the medieval knight pursuing the Holy Grail; from the quest for the Lost Dutchman mine to the lure of discovering Shangri-La.
A search can be tedious, yielding its reward after countless hours and lingering years of failure—Thomas Edison experimenting with a thousand substances before finding one suitable for use as a glowing filament; Jonas Salk peering through a thousand microscopes before finding a vaccine for polio.
A search can be quixotic—the alchemist seeking a formula to turn lead into gold; Ponce De León tracking down the Fountain of Youth. It is searching for gold at the end of the rainbow and chasing the will-o’-the-wisp with a butterfly net.
A search can be maniacal—Captain Ahab sailing his troubled soul into uncharted waters, risking his crew and his mission to gain revenge on his loathsome nemesis, the great white whale Moby Dick. It is the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk shouting, “Fee fi fo fum” while frantically chasing after his golden harp.
Man is by nature a hunter. He longs to discover the new frontier, the lost horizon, the magic formula, and the ultimate trophy. From Nimrod stalking the primordial lion to Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal’s relentless pursuit of Adolf Eichmann and Dr. Josef Mengele, the hunt is fierce. It is Columbus seeking a new world, Galileo a new moon around Jupiter, and Christian Dior a new flair for fashion.
We are the seekers. We hunt for animals and precious gems; for a cure for cancer and a way to solve the national debt. We look for jobs, for dates, for bargains, and for thrills. The pursuit of happiness is our inalienable right. We are like Dorothy, off to see the Wizard, the wonderful Wizard of Oz.
Ours is a new world, fraught with the peril of nuclear annihilation, torn by the violence of international terrorism, embittered by our failure to build the great society. The rigorous pursuit of our day is the search for dignity and personal worth. It is a mighty quest fueled by the flames of passion that burn in the souls of people who refuse to surrender to the voices that declare we are nothing.
The search for dignity is a titanic struggle, an epic adventure, prodded by a pain that will not go away. Modern man has an aching void. The emptiness we feel cannot be relieved by one more gourmet meal or another snort of cocaine. We carry water in a sieve when we try to fill the empty space with a better job or a bigger house.
Dignity is never found in plastic. We must search further and probe deeper if the haunting cries of indignity are to be silenced. Ours must be a transcendent quest—going beyond the trivial to the ultimate questions of our worth as human beings.
It was Saint Augustine who declared that within each of us is a vacuum that must be filled if the scourge of insignificance is to miss us in its vicious attack. We must seek our roots, our origin, and our destiny if we are to know our present value.
This book is written by a Christian for Christians and for anyone else who shares in the search. It explores the human cry for dignity, the deep desire for significance, the hallowed longing for love and respect. It touches the aching void in the home, the school, the hospital, the prison, the church, and the workplace. Wherever people come together, hunters meet in common cause—the discovery of worth, the assurance of our dignity.
At times the book is autobiographical—not as if I alone have felt the aching void but that I may speak from the most intimate chamber of my quest, my own heart. Some will identify and others will not. My pain is not always your pain. And my delight may leave you bored.
But my earnest hope is that at some point our kindred spirits will meet, and whatever else our differences, we will be cemented together in a renewed commitment to preserve and protect the dignity of the men, women, and children who surround us every day.
My gratitude must be expressed to Bob and Lillian Love for providing me with a place to work, far from the intrusions of ringing phones and administrative pressures, and to Leo and Todge Collins for helping me with support material. Special thanks go to Mrs. Lillian Rowe for allowing the tender moments of her husband’s death to be included in the book.
Thanks also to Karen Snellback for typing the manuscript, to Tim Couch and Dave Fox for running the ship of Ligonier Ministries in my absence, to my son R.C. Sproul Jr. for editorial assistance, and to my friends at Regal Books: William Greig, David Malme, and my patient editor Donald Pugh for prodding me to write the book, and for all their encouragement and assistance.
Finally, my heartfelt thanks to my wife, Vesta, without whose help this book would be far more abstract and far less readable.