Why is it that even after the best times of our lives, we lay our head to sleep and still feel unsatisfied? No matter how many possessions we obtain, how many friends we have that like us, or how perfect our circumstances turned out, we still inevitably will come to a point where we retire in solitude and ask “Really? That’s it?”
Humanity has either given unsatisfactory answers to this question or simply ignored it altogether by pacifying our ache of dissatisfaction through various means. In the West where affluence and ease permeate our culture like a strong fragrance quickly fills a room, we are at risk of being silently sent to our grave by the almost undetectable yet highly noxious fumes of prosperity. In seeking to answer this universal question of humanity since the fall, we must first realize that the ache of dissatisfaction that we feel in the midst of seemingly “ideal” circumstances is God-given. When we remember that we presently live in an “evil age” (Galatians 1:4) and that we are relentlessly being blinded by the evil one to not see “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4), we can have better perspective about the ache of discontentment that we feel.
Throughout history the church has identified this ache common to all men and also given unsatisfactory solutions to it, many of which are still heralded loudly today. In the West, a revived form of pietism and voluntary poverty is often trumpeted as the chief pathway to enduring joy. This position is mostly reactionary to the circumstantial ease of the West and heavily strengthened by the underlying influence of Greek philosophy in the church. This unbiblical way of thinking has caused us to see any temporal pleasure as illegitimate, ungodly, or unspiritual. Paul said otherwise to Timothy, reminding him to exhort believers simply to have the right perspective about the joys and pleasures of this age:
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”
(1 Timothy 6:17 ESV)
The root of the problem does not originate with a love of pleasure but rather lies with the posture of our heart in the midst of pleasure. Therefore selling our possessions and living in poverty can never be a final solution to our dissatisfaction. Those who believe so have assumed that our satisfaction is the pinnacle of our existence. Is our joy the final goal of our lives, or do we exist to enjoy bringing pleasure to Another? Though living simply and giving extravagantly have the beautiful effect of helping to detach our hearts from treasure that fades, we still require a deep work of the Holy Spirit to reveal the unsearchable riches of Christ to our hearts so that we realize we exist for Him, not for ourselves. Thus earnestly petitioning the LORD for grace to live for Him and no longer for ourselves (2 Corinthians 5:15) must be our first and foremost line of defense against discouragement and dissatisfaction in this evil age.
The dissatisfaction we feel was meant to be satisfied by the glory of Jesus (and thus enjoying the things He created and has given us), although satisfaction in Him does not terminate in our own pleasure or glory but rather in His. In other words, the place of lasting joy for our hearts will come when Christ fills all in all (Ephesians 1:23), when His glory is revealed and He alone is exalted (Isaiah 2:17), and when evil is vanquished once and for all and He has returned to the earth to rule from Jerusalem (Isaiah 24:23, Matthew 25:31, Psalms 48:1-2). Until that Day, legitimate, godly, temporal pleasures of this age are meant to be enjoyed and to cultivate a longing for the supreme exaltation of the Author of that pleasure. The early church knew well that lasting joy would never come in this age, which is why they constantly exhorted believers to live as strangers, sojourners, and pilgrims, looking for the “blessed hope” of the return of Jesus (1 Peter 2:11; Hebrews 11:13; Titus 2:13). In that day, abandonment to Him will be untainted by selfish ambition because of the “grace given to us” – an enabling, empowering gift from God to enjoy making much of Him forever at the expense of our own exaltation.
So with those things in mind, we may actually be able to have a basic answer to the question of our dissatisfaction. Will we ever find fulfillment and contentment? Yes, we will find the lasting joy we seek, but not until the age to come, and not when our quest for joy terminates in self instead of in God. Arming ourselves with this mind empowers us to enjoy the legitimate pleasures of this age while living as a clear witness of Jesus' worth by declaring their utter insufficiency to fully satisfy us.
As we await that day, may this God-given ache of discontentment lead us into fully setting our hope on the age to come (1 Peter 1:13) when righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit will be our portion (Romans 14:17) and Jesus will have the preeminence in all things (Colossians 1:18), and may the beauty of creation or the pleasures of family, marriage, food, and life lead us into a deeper longing for the sole exaltation of Jesus, the Creator and Author of all life.