Another week, another chapter! This week we’re in chapter four of Tim Keller’s book, Making Sense of God. An index of all the posts in my study can be found HERE.
- Despite extraordinary advances in technology and public health, and the fact that the world as a whole is wealthier and more comfortable than it has ever been, we are still constantly discontent and disappointed that life doesn’t come together as well as we want it to. Studies and an avalanche of anecdotal evidence tells us there’s “a very weak correlation between wealth and contentment, and the more prosperous a society grows, the more common is depression.” (77)
- Why are we discontent?
- Discontent is an evolutionary mechanism that just pushed our ancestors to work harder and to achieve more. However, just as often or even more often, discontentment “undermines initiative and drive…the feeling does not necessarily or even normally lead to survival behavior.” (88)
- Christian view: The philosopher Augustine argued that we are discontent because “our loves are out of order.” Our lives are ordered around what and who we love. We love a lot of good things – money, family, work, justice, etc. But we often fail to love them in the correct way. For instance, “there is nothing wrong with loving your work, but if you love it more than your family, then your loves are out of order and you may ruin your family. Or if you love making money more than you love justice, then you will exploit your employees, again, because your loves are disordered.” (89) These disordered loves produce conflict, disappointment, and discontentment.
- What is the remedy for discontentment?
- Continue thinking that “it” can be found that will finally give you the happiness you want. This puts us on a “hedonic treadmill…We go through houses and spouses and jobs and the constant reinvention of our lives, assuring ourselves that at the next level ‘it’ is going to finally be there.” But a treadmill never goes anywhere, it just gets faster, and eventually you burn out, despair, or become deeply cynical. (84)
- Live altruistically. Devote your lives to others. Of course this is a worthy pursuit and shouldn’t be discouraged, but let’s be honest…what does everyone say after they do something good? “It made me feel so fulfilled and happy.” Keller says, “They are using the needy and poor to achieve the self-worth they need. This not only can lead to paternalism but can also turn to disdain and contempt if their altruistic efforts are not met with respect and gratitude.” (86)
- Transcend. Don’t get too attached to anything or anyone because nothing lasts and nothing can truly satisfy. Obviously, no one really wants to live like this, it provides no motivation to fight for necessary change, and “diminishing your love for others does not increase satisfaction but only undermines it.” (87)
- Christian view: We are discontent because we were created for relationship with God. When that relationship is not there, we are living out of sync with our purpose and are therefore left unsatisfied with the counterfeit purposes we make for ourselves. If a fish constantly tries to live like an elephant or a bear or any other animal other than a fish, it will be continually frustrated because that’s not what it was designed for. In loving God we align ourselves with what we were created to be and He becomes our source of contentment and joy. We can avoid becoming overly attached to things or people because God is now our greatest love, and we don’t just mentally check out and disconnect from the world either because we see the goodness of what He’s given. With our loves properly ordered around God at the center, we can now love and enjoy good things like family and money and work but we are not mastered by them.
- In closing, Keller says this love for God can’t just be mentally willed. “You can’t force your heart to love.” (96) Instead, we must be “gripped by the true story of God’s actual sacrificial, saving love for us in Jesus…Because we fail to love God and our neighbor, we sin, and for God to forgive our sin, the Son of God became mortal and graciously died in our place on the cross…Only if you see him doing this all for you – does that begin to change your heart. He suffered and died for your sake. Now out of joy we can love him just for his sake, just for the beauty of who he is and what he has done.” (95-96)
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
One of my earliest memories is of…cookies. More specifically, Sprinkled Chips Ahoy.
They were actually a really lame cookie. It was literally just sprinkles added to Chips Ahoy. But any dumb cookie can be made awesome through advertising, and if you think that TV commercials aren’t effective, well, you should meet my four-year-old self.
I saw this glorious commercial, which you can actually find on YouTube (the Internet is amazing) and in my kid mind, I believed with all my heart that those cookies would start an actual, real-life party if I ate them. I finally got my mom to buy them, and my anticipation was at a fever pitch by the time my younger brother and I were standing in front of the box. When I slowly took my first bite, my anticipation quickly turned to…
You guessed it. Soul-wrenching, depths of the sea, disappointment. No party materialized, nothing in the room changed, and the cookie wasn’t even delicious. I lamely jumped up and down and acted crazy to try and manufacture some excitement, which my brother copied and we laughed about, but in the end, it was a colossal letdown.
Isn’t that such a picture of how life goes? We see something that we become convinced will make us happy once we have it, but once we have it, the satisfaction either doesn’t last, or it is frustratingly unsatisfying. Our husbands fail to be the husbands we want them to be. Parenting is exhausting and confusing. Jobs become mundane and unfulfilling. Eagerly anticipated vacations never end up as restful or exciting as we want them to be. Money is spent and then we just want more.
Even as a Christian who is trying to keep her loves properly ordered, discontentment has been a constant battle throughout my life. I think this reveals the depths of our restlessness and selfishness, that even as believers who have a remedy for our discontent, we still continue to try and make ourselves happy through our own efforts and acquisition of material things. But I want so badly to live like Keller described, able to live contented with a hope and security in God’s love that transcends circumstances. And I want to be able to truly enjoy the good things God provides in life without “crushing them under the weight of my expectations” (91) because my happiness is pinned to them, and without depriving myself of good things just because they “don’t last” or because I self-righteously think I’m being more holy by not having them.
I need to have my loves reordered, but not just once. Daily, hourly, constantly.
“Don’t love anything less; instead learn to love God more, and you will love other things with far more satisfaction. You won’t overprotect them, you won’t overexpect things from them. You won’t be constantly furious with them for not being what you hoped. Don’t stifle passionate love for anything; rather, redirect your greatest love toward God by loving him with your whole heart and loving him for himself, not just for what he can give you. Then, and only then, does the contentment start to come.
That is the Christian view of satisfaction. It avoids the pitfalls of both the ancient strategy of tranquility through detachment and the modern strategy of happiness through acquisition. It both explains and resolves the deep conundrum of our seemingly irremediable discontent.” (94)
- If you’ve read the chapter, were there any quotes or sections that were particularly thought-provoking to you?
- What are things you’re waiting for that you think will finally make you happy?
- Perhaps it’s difficult to stomach the idea that we have a creator who made us for Him. After all, we want to be the master of our own lives and our own destinies. But ask the question, who do I think can do a better job of ordering my life? An infinitely and perfectly wise, just, faithful, and loving God? Or me, with my limited perspective, selfish motives, and many failings?