In an earlier column, I wrote about how we discover contentment through the experience of God’s continual presence, the present that God gives us to live today and the relationships God brings into each of our lives. For followers of Christ, however, there is a paradox in our discovery of contentment.
In opposition to the temporal and material things of life, we can find contentment in our relationship to God and to others, as Jesus modeled for us. Yet our own contentment must never eclipse our discontent about the world’s predicament apart from God’s fully realized redemption.
We must embrace a degree of discontent that keeps us from becoming complacent and too comfortable about ourselves, the world and the delay of God’s justice and redemption. Three important and interrelated areas should express our discontent as those who seek to follow Christ.
First, we ought to be discontent about our failure to be who Christ calls us to be. While we find contentment in the enabling grace of God that extends God’s forgiveness and restoration to us, we still struggle to be faithful in our discipleship. We are very much like the person Paul speaks of in Romans 7, doing what we are forbidden and failing to do what we know we are commanded. We live with the tension of God’s redemptive grace and our struggle to rebuff our sinful natures.
I am not speaking here of guilt. Guilt is only a trap that holds us prisoners to our sin nature. The gospel never calls us to bear feelings of guilt. Rather, our discontent is expressed in our mourning over our sin to the extent that we are led to repentance through which we find contentment in God’s forgiving grace. The continuous practice of confession and repentance verbalizes our discontent and opens us to the forgiveness of God.
Second, we must always be discontent with the evil and injustice that remains in our world. Often, we ignore the larger world in which we live and we disregard those who suffer under the weight of poverty, oppression and injustice. We follow the popular preachers of self-fulfillment, who treat the revelation of God in Jesus Christ as primarily the power that feeds our own insular spirituality. As long as our spiritual hunger is fed and our needs are met, we find comfort. But in doing so, we fail to accept the fullness of the gospel of discipleship that calls us to embrace the pain of our world and identify with those who hurt.
Though Jesus found contentment in his relationship with God and the mission to which God had called him, he was discontent with the hurting people experienced in an unjust society. His mission and message brought healing to those under the weight of oppression and judgment against those who oppressed. He was never content that evil and injustice were ravaging God’s good creation, and his miracles of healing and restoration were works that sought to release those captive to injustice and oppression.
The third area is directly connected to the first two. We must remain discontent about the delay of Christ’s return and the full redemption of all of creation. Although Jesus’ message was that the rule of God had come, the fullness of that rule has yet to be realized.
We live in the “already but not yet” interval in which we look in the past to God’s work on the cross and to the future to the emergence of God’s full redemption. We must long for and pray for the time of Christ’s return when the new creation of God will be made real. Indeed, as Paul states in Romans, the whole of creation groans with the pains of birth for the day of redemption. We join creation in that groaning, discontent with the delay of God and calling on God to bring the fullness of God’s rule and justice to bear on the world.
In this vein, we pray the words of Jesus, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” and we work to create a more just and loving world in which signs of the coming kingdom become recognizable as the work of Christ.
In the second Beatitude of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, “Happy are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Jesus was not speaking of a general sadness or mourning. He was speaking of our mourning over the state of humanity and all of creation apart from God’s full redemption. He was speaking of our discontent over our struggle with sin, the prevalence of injustice and the delay in the full realization of God’s redemption.
Drew Smith, an ordained Baptist minister, is director of international programs at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark. He blogs at Wilderness Preacher.
Previous related column:
Jesus’ Life Offers a Model of Contentment