What We Want

It’s not the consumers’ job to know what they want.”

Who said it? Right. Steve Jobs.

Apple Computer convened no focus groups in developing the iPad. “If you ask people what they want, and then build it, by the time you’re done, they want something else.”

I am not presenting an iPad info-mercial.

In fact, I imagine I will live the rest of my life perfectly well without owning one. When I looked at my brother’s iPad during our vacation, I experienced a desire for one of my own. But a minute later I saw a piece of pepperoni pizza and went through the same thing.

But I think Steve Jobs’ insight is profound. We do not know what we want. I mean we do. But we don’t.

Shakespeare’s plays are full of young ladies who tear up letters from suitors, but then try to piece the scraps together again. Or who say to a knight, “I wonder why you still be talking,” only to go on to say to him a few scenes later, “Love on. I will requite thee.” Or who say to a father about an engagement he has arranged, “Father, you wish me married to one half-lunatic?!” but then later call the same lunatic her “lord, king, and governor.”*

We know that we want. Not sure exactly what. We’ll know it when we see it. Maybe.

It is not the consumers’ job to know what they want. Are we really so fickle?

Well, we can and we should work on this. Govern ourselves with reason. Do I want such-and-such? Perhaps. But what about a reason why I need it? Am I even allowed to have it? Probably better to wait and see if I still want it later. An educated person puts his or her desires in good order.

But Steve Jobs’ statement penetrates even deeper, albeit unwittingly.
Today’s gospel reading paints a picture of confusion surrounding Christ. He heals and casts out demons. A larger and larger crowd swarms around Him. They want something from Him. But what exactly?

He slips away. “I was sent to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God.”

It is not our job to know what we want, because what we want exceeds our capacity to know. We want God. We want the One we do not know. Nothing will truly satisfy our desire, except the infinite One Who so un-satisfyingly escapes our every effort to grasp Him.

So let’s just try to relax. We will know and see and have the One we want when He is good and ready to be known and seen and possessed by us. In the meantime, let’s faithfully obey His loving commandments and prayerfully beg for His mercy and help.

* The reader who names the three plays referred to here wins undying glory. [HINT: The ladies are Julia, Beatrice, and Katherina.]

Summary of SCG 3.59

Thanking the good Lord for 41 years which have passed in what seems like a quarter of an hour, I offer you this loose paraphrase of the Angelic Doctor:

Our minds desire to know and understand. We will not be satisfied until we know and understand everything. In heaven, we will.


We cannot know and understand God Himself, His goodness, His power. He is infinite–beyond the measure of our minds. We cannot know why He made the world, you, me. We cannot understand His reasons for treating us with mercy.

So, yes: Our desire to know and understand outstrips all our other desires and defines who we really are. We can, with the help of God, clear away all our silly penchants for anything less than the truth. Then the desire to know, which moves beneath our fleeting appetites, will propel us to God.

But our acquiring minds do not move at the absolute center of our existential gravity.

In heaven, may it please Him we get there, we will delight in understanding why shrimp swim the ocean waters, why Mars has two moons, why so-and-so did such-and-such.

But the whys and wherefores will have an end. One thing, however, will have no end: our adoration of the infinite Love behind it all, Whom we will never understand.

Desire for knowledge runs pretty deep. Worship of the One Who blows our minds–that runs even deeper.

…Thank you very much for all the kind birthday wishes. The kudos there are really due to my mommy.