Sometimes we all feel like frauds. At times we feel like everyone else is experiencing something so wonderful while we are just putting on a show. Their relationships are so deep, their friendships are so real, their faith is so strong, their worship is so heartfelt, their marriage is so satisfying. But our relationships are so shallow, our friendships are so fake, our faith is so weak, our worship is so distracted, our marriage is so difficult.
That’s life under this sun. It’s a life of inadequacy, a life where we are never as fulfilled and satisfied as we want to be. For all the genuine joys this life brings, there is still and always the lingering sorrow of all that life is not and will never be.
Sometimes I like to sit and think about the books that push their way onto the lists of bestsellers. Almost by definition, each of the books that sells a half million or a million copies is addressing some kind of deep felt need. After all, why else would you buy it and why else would you recommend it to a friend except that it meets you where you’re at—it promises help in an area in which you feel incomplete or inadequate.
- The Purpose Driven Life promised to answer the ultimate question of life by helping us find our purpose. And who hasn’t felt unmoored, adrift, and purposeless in this world?
- Jesus Calling promised us more than hearing from God through the Bible. It held out the promise, or the possibility, that Jesus might speak to us in a new and fresh way and, perhaps even better, in a personal way.
- The Five Love Languages promised that it would give us better and longer-lasting relationships as we figured out how to relate in healthier ways.
- The Shack promised a new way to understand God and a much more personal way to relate to him than any we have known this side of Eden.
- 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven Is For Real—and all the other entries in the “I Went to Heaven” genre—promised answers to what we can only take by faith: that there is hope and life beyond the grave.
- Radical promised to help us shake off the unfulfilling dullness of the American Dream and to pursue something so much bigger and nobler than the accumulation of possessions and a savings account.
- Your Best Life Now promised that our lives could be better and happier, more fulfilling and more positive.
And on it goes. Every time a book hits the list of bestsellers, it is worth asking why it is there and what need it promises to address. There is the occasional exception, the occasional book that sells a million copies based on the popularity of the author (see anything related to Duck Dynasty) or because of brilliant marketing, but most books make the list because we put them there as we try to find answers to our deepest needs. Some of the most popular authors are adept at writing to our needs, even if they don’t answer them in a compelling and satisfying way.
A year ago I wrote about this very topic and suggested that the solution is found in Ecclesiastes and the single word Vapor. This was the refuge of Solomon in his book of Ecclesiastes. He begins his book and he ends it with the same cry of discontent: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” All of the pursuits of this life are vanity, all of them are vapor, all of them are chasing after the wind, an impossible pursuit that never ends and never brings deep and lasting satisfaction.
Has anyone in all of literary history written words that are more poignant, more unflinchingly realistic, than these?
All things are full of weariness;
a man cannot utter it;
the eye is not satisfied with seeing,
nor the ear filled with hearing.
What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done,
and there is nothing new under the sun.
Has anyone ever written words than ring truer? We are dissatisfied because we must be dissatisfied. God has put eternity in our hearts (Ecc. 3:11) but we locked ourselves in a temporal world. God created us to find our highest joy and delight in him, but we chose to seek delight in the things he made. We worship the creation rather than the Creator. Even those of us who have been drawn back to the Creator still turn to this side and that, to this idol and that.
We can cry out that we were made for more, that we were meant for more, from now until eternity. We will cry out from now until eternity. We will simply be expressing what Solomon told us so much more pointedly so many years ago. “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” This world cannot deliver all we want from it. This life cannot deliver all the satisfaction we long for.
This dissatisfaction is ugly when it paralyzes us with guilt or when it motivates us to act rashly out of guilt. It is unhelpful when it traps us in complacency and despair. Solomon did not advocate guilt, he did not cry out in complacency and hopelessness. Far from it.
I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
This dissatisfaction is a gift when it motivates us to pursue the best and purest source of delight. God’s gift to us is that we find all the pleasure we can, all the pleasure there is, in the good things of this life. God’s gift is that we can pause and enjoy the rich scent of a rose in full bloom. We can linger in lovemaking and enjoy the pleasure of every sensation. We can watch the sunset until darkness has taken the sun’s last ray from the sky. These are pleasures to enjoy to the full and with God’s richest blessing.
Even two thousand years ago Solomon could say, “Of making many books there is no end.” There is no end of books that expose our dissatisfaction and propose solutions. None of the solutions last. None of the solutions deliver all we want and all we long for. You could follow every application in every one of those books and you would still be discontent. We will all die dissatisfied, still longing for more. (But...)
But those who die in Christ have the great promise that we will awake to all the pleasures, all the satisfaction we have ever longed for, and so much more besides.
Tim Challies is author of the weblog Challies.com: Informing the Reforming and lives near Toronto, Canada. He is also author of The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment.