Blessing the Discontent
There is an uncomfortable line of thought within the Christian worldview, particularly for those who would choose a religion for the favorable qualities it offers. That is, the life of a believer is not one which is void of disappointment. The believer does not cease to live with discontent because he lives with Christ. Though the sources of our disappointment will vary, it can play an important role in the journey of a believer. In fact, the experiences of the earliest followers show that God makes good use of disappointment in the lives of those God loves.
In the Old Testament, God speaks of the disappointment in the hearts of the people of Israel as a signpost to truth. When we have wandered away from our first love, when we have settled for something less than God’s promises, disappointment can show us the way back home. God identified the dissatisfaction among the people of ancient Israel as an indicator that all things apart from his presence will always fall short of filling their hearts. The second chapter of Jeremiah is filled with the imagery of inevitable disappointment for those who seek to supplement the love of God with other pursuits:
“Now why go to Egypt
to drink water from the Shihor?
And why go to Assyria
to drink water from the River?
Why do you go about so much,
changing your ways?
You will be disappointed by Egypt
as you were by Assyria.
You will also leave that place
with your hands on your head,
for the LORD has rejected those you trust;
you will not be helped by them” (Jeremiah 2:18, 36-37).
When we face disappointment we are faced with a choice. It can lead us further into futile pursuits for fulfillment or it can be the signpost that causes us to turn around and be welcomed back into the arms of the Father. If we will allow Him, this is one way God can use disappointment in lives of believers.
But this type of disappointment is far different from what we might call holy discontent, the unsatisfied hunger that reminds us we have indeed been ushered in to a great banquet, but the feast has not fully been served. In the hands of God, this can be an equally powerful signpost.
Saint Augustine is often quoted for his words about restlessness and dissatisfaction. On the first page of his Confessions, Augustine summarizes the story of his life in a single confession to God: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” So often this line is quoted as the quality that distinguishes the believer from the unbeliever, the rested from the restless. But I don’t think this is what Augustine intended, nor do I think it is a helpful place to draw the line. Those who confess Christ as Lord do not cease to confess disappointment. Moreover, one cannot read Augustine’s Confessions without realizing that he saw himself as a restless soul! He saw all of us this way, and for good reason. As believers, we still struggle with sin and disappointment. We are still restless, still longing, still hungry, and at times discontent. Our thirst is partially satisfied now because we are partially sanctified. We have, in the Spirit, a taste of what is to come. But the table of God is not fully here yet, and at times we are filled with discontent at the thought of it. With all of creation, I am still groaning for restoration, reconciliation, redemption—to sit at the table that has been prepared for me and recline with the one who’s prepared it.
I believe the rest that Augustine is talking about is eschatological rest—and we are not there yet. Our way there is full of longing, filled with discontent that the world is not as it will be, marked by the difficulty of waiting, and the hunger for more than we now taste and see. But how beautiful this longing is! For our disappointment is a testimony to the promise that we will rest in God, and such a signpost is an unlikely blessing in the midst of our need. I believe this is why Jesus declares throughout the beatitudes that those on the verge of disappointment, those in the grasp of pangs for something more—these are the blessed among us. Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn, and those who are meek. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Such hunger is a declaration that we are indeed on our way to a great banquet and God is truly reconciling all things so that we—and our enemies—have a place at the table. Our restlessness can thus be deeply devotional, our discontent a constant confession that we anticipate nothing less than redemption and restoration, a place at the great table of God. Blessed indeed are the hungry.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.