It may be the most common feature of the bestselling Christian books. “We all want to be great for God and do things that would be impossible without his presence and help. So live a life that’s Greater.” “You are living a life of comfort, ease and complacency, so step out and do something Radical.” “Your life is just passing you by as you sit on the sidelines, so God is calling you to be a follower, Not a Fan.” “You want more Jesus and are bored with what Christianity offers you. You need to rediscover God’s Crazy Love.” It goes on nearly ad infinitum. Some are awful, some are brilliant, but the theme is largely the same: There must be more to life than this! Please tell me there is more to life than this!
Christians live with this deep-rooted dissatisfaction. Authors have written of it, poets have reflected on it, songwriters have sung of it. We read what the Bible calls us to, we feel what our hearts demand of us, then we look at our lives and are disappointed, discontent. There has to be more than this. The Lord must expect more than this.
Vapor. There’s the answer, I’m convinced. Vapor. This was the refuge, the unavoidable reality of The Preacher–of Solomon in the character of The Preacher–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. Switchfoot said it well: “Maybe we’ve been living with our eyes half open / Maybe we’re bent and broken / We want more than this world’s got to offer / We were meant to live for so much more.” The most contented Christian will still long for so much more.
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.
But even these pleasures only awaken us to the desire for more. What Steve DeWitt taught me about beauty is equally applicable to pleasure (for pleasure is so beautiful):
Beauty was created by God for a purpose: to give us the experience of wonder. And wonder, in turn, is intended to lead us to the ultimate human expression and privilege: worship. Beauty is both a gift and a map. It is a gift to be enjoyed and a map to be followed back to the source of the beauty with praise and thanksgiving.
We experience pleasure most deeply when it leads us to wonder and worship and when the wonder and worship lead us to desire the Lord more deeply. Every pleasure here points us to much greater pleasures to come. We want more than this world’s got to offer and someday we will experience so much more than this world can give us.
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.