One of the reasons we cannot keep, or even find contentment, is that we have managed to confuse it with satisfaction. This may seem like a nit-picky point – as even some English thesauruses (thesauri?) will essentially equate the words contentment and satisfaction. However, there is a meaningful difference when we approach the two ideas from a Biblical perspective.
If we return to Jeremiah Burroughs (who we looked at a few weeks ago) we find he is very direct on this matter. Burroughs claims when you find someone who has Biblical contentment, “he is the most contented man in the world, and yet the most unsatisfied man in the world.”
Let that sink in.
He argues not only is contentment not the same as satisfaction but the opposite of satisfaction. The two are mutually exclusive.
Satisfaction is simply when all your expectations are met, where things are as good as you could hope for. “Were you satisfied with our customer service today?” is asking “did you receive everything that you expected?” If we are ’satisfied’ with whatever (the pizza, our cell phone service, etc.) we are saying we could not have expected anything better, and we are pleased with what we now have. I got just what I was anticipating, and hoping for, nothing less.
But is that what the life of someone trying to follow Jesus looks like? Can we honestly say “yes, the lack of pain I have experienced is great, and the closeness I feel to God is the best I could ever imagine, every day of my life”? I know I can’t.
Burrough’s point is that, no, we will never truly be satisfied here in this life. We can be truly content (if you’re not yet convinced of this I hope you will be soon) – but we will never have this sense of “yes, this is truly as good as it will ever get, and I have all that I ever could have expected to get (from life, from God, etc.).”
If we hope to be satisfied by the things of God, then we’ll have to wait a bit as Paul wrote in a letter to the church in Corinth “for now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” If however, we were hoping to be satisfied by the things of this world, we can know the full extent of them, and have a sense of satisfaction. Which of course, a Biblical world-view would argue is not true satisfaction.
Either we long to be satisfied by nothing other than God himself, in which case we won’t fully experience it while in this broken world, or we long to be satisfied with material things, or success, or approval of others, or something else, and we can fully (or at least very deeply) experience those things, but we’ll never have enough for a real sense of contentment.
In many ways, this alludes to the observation about a God-shaped hole that we all carry around. Blaise Pascal, the 17th-century French Philosopher, gave us the idea that every person is walking around with a “God-shaped hole, that cannot be filled with any created thing, but only by God the creator.” The phrase is not uncommon, and it’s always attributed to Pascal, but Burroughs essentially said the same thing about a century earlier: “A soul that is capable of God can be filled with nothing else but God.” In essence, he was claiming that if we try to find satisfaction in this world, we will be disappointed.
We can look at our situation in life and say “I don’t need anything else to be content, at peace, with a purpose. I don’t need a better job, better health, whatever…God doesn’t have to give me those things for me to be content.” However, at the same time, we look around this world with dissatisfaction and also say “It wasn’t meant to be this way. I hate sickness and death. I am not as close to God as I know I could be …and someday will be. I will never know Him enough this side of eternity”
So we can and should be content, but not satisfied. They are not the same, in fact, they are (from a Biblical perspective) mutually exclusive. So we must fight the urge to confuse them and remember which one we want, which one we don’t, and live accordingly.
Think about what you should be dissatisfied about. If after some reflection and prayer – you’re convinced you should be dissatisfied about that – fan that flame! Let your heart break for the things that break God’s. Be on Team Jesus when it’s time to flip tables in the temple. Make sure you’re not confusing a pursuit of contentment – with trying to become satisfied. Don’t let a passive-be-kind-get-along notion take away your displeasure, disappointment, and disapproval of things that deserve it.
You promise true contentment,
In you can we find out soul’s satisfaction.
Bring us back when we search for satisfaction somewhere else.
Keep us longing, thirsting for more of you,
that we won’t be satisfied with how much of you
we have on this side of eternity.
Keep our hearts burning with love for you,
and fan the flames of our dissatisfaction with the everything
in this world that is not of you.