Dissecting Discontentment

In June of 1965, the Rolling Stones released a song that sums up the plight and the frustration of fallen man in a fallen world. The song is titled “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and it is regarded as one of the top five songs of all time. What is the appeal of this song? What about this song has resonated with people from all over the world for the the last 55 years and will likely continue to do so well into the future if the Lord tarries? The song is essentially an ode to the frustration of my will on the earth. I want what I want when I want it. I want an exact amount of it for a specific duration of time which is determined by me. In an earlier post, we looked at the popularity of the song “Imagine”. It’s amusing that these two songs are both extremely popular with generational appeal. One song is softly and melodically imploring the listener to envision a perfect world in which everyone lives together in peaceful harmony and the other is essentially shouting at the listener because the satisfaction of his fleshly will is being frustrated at every turn. Doesn’t this sum up the human condition pretty well? In theory, the concept of unity and peaceful harmony is appealing to us, but at the end of the day, the satisfaction of my will is most appealing.

When we speak about the will of man, we are talking about that which originates within the heart of man and is the summation of what he desires and is convinced ought to be. To understand the will of fallen man, we must examine his heart. The fall of mankind is recounted in Genesis 3. Man disobeyed God in asserting his creaturely will above the will of God. There was the desire for wisdom apart from what God had given (Genesis 3:6). It was in the exact moment of their disobedience that their eyes were opened and they knew the shame of sin. As a result of the fall of mankind, every human being is born into the world convinced of the supremacy of our will above the will of God. Even for the one who has been born again, there is still the learned tendency to elevate our will to a place of primacy. We can all relate to this. We all want what we want. We have our idea of how everything ought to work out and, amazingly enough, all of it includes me being completely satisfied. If we imagine a target with a bullseye at the center—this is where the will of man exists, and it is the responsibility of everyone else (including God) to hit it.

However, we also know the frustration of our human will is a real and regular thing. We are constantly getting hit outside of that bullseye. Each time this happens, there is the temptation to react emotionally. The farther from the bullseye the hit, the bigger the emotion. It is my preference to wake up on time every morning. If I were to oversleep by 10 minutes, there might be some mild annoyance, but if I oversleep by 2 hours there would be a temptation to a bigger emotion. The health and well being of my loved ones exists in the bullseye. I’ve got four kids and there are times when one of them is sick, breaks a wrist, dislocates a knee cap or gashes a knee to require 28 stitches. This is outside of the bullseye. This is not my will and I wouldn’t have chosen for these to happen. There are also things that exist miles away from the bullseye. My dad died of cancer back in 2003 at the age of 56. I never would have chosen this.

The will of man is frustrated because, although he imagines himself to be in the seat of God, he lacks the power and authority—the necessary divinity—to actually bring his will to pass. Not only that, but man is also extremely limited in knowledge. The will of man is informed by what he knows and—relative to God—he knows essentially nothing. The scope of the human will is minuscule while the scope of God’s will is infinite as He is infinite in His knowledge, power, and authority. My will—the bullseye—encapsulates all that I think should happen to bring about my good. Due to the constant frustration of the human will, there is a tension that exists between my will and the will of God. Discontentment is what grows out of the difference between the bullseye and the actual hit.

We must view discontentment properly. I would imagine that many would not see discontentment to be on a list of what we might perceive as “big” sins, but we must look at it for what it truly is. It is what arises from the creation saying to the Creator, “You don’t know what you’re doing!” Discontentment is when you examine your will in comparison to God’s and come to the errant conclusion that God has missed a great opportunity to have the better thing come to pass. It is to wrestle with God for the seat of authority, power and rulership. We do this because we—in our sinful pride—actually believe that we know what’s best and what ought to happen. We believe we know this in regard to the workings of our own individual sphere as well as how all people and systems in the world ought to behave to bring about what is good. Ultimately, we believe we are the ones who define “good”. The discontentment that grows out of the frustration of my will is the manifestation of a lack of faith that God is sovereignly working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

What is at the end of your will? If everything hit right in the center of the bullseye for you at every turn, what would be the end result? Isn’t it your own comfort and happiness? This is our aim because we are born into pridefulness and still do battle with sin even after being born again and sin has been unseated from rulership in our hearts. We have the tendency to think if I’m happy, then the world is right. Is the will of God aiming for the same thing? Is God aiming for your happiness? I’ve heard many people try to justify their sin by claiming so, but it is God’s will that you be holy (1 Thessalonians 4:3a). In our limited knowledge and understanding we think, if I just had the bank account I want, if my job was what I want, if my spouse tended to my needs appropriately, if my kids honored me all of the time, etc…we think if everything would just hit the bullseye, then I could be content. This is a deception. There is nothing but discontentment as long as we operate from the shaky ground that my will—aimed at my happiness—is the primary goal. Holiness is the will of God for His children rather than our happiness.

The frustration of the human will is intended to highlight that we are powerless to rule and reign over our own lives and we must learn to be content in the will of God. We must learn submission to the sovereign decrees of God to bring to pass whatever accords with His will and not mine. The apostle Paul learned contentment (Philippians 4:12-13). He learned to bring his will into submission to God’s will—being enabled to do so by the power of the Holy Spirit. The tension of wills exists because God’s will is to glorify Himself in the fallen world thorough the sanctification of His children—which primarily comes through times of adversity and hardship—while our will is to be happy and satisfied. The call for one who has been born again is to come to the place of “Father, not my will, but yours be done”.

We cannot hope to advance in learning contentment apart from being renewed in our thinking (Romans 12:1-2), and this is through being conformed in our minds to the truth of God’s Word (John 17:17). All that God wills, will come to pass and there is no one who can change what God has ordained (Psalm 115:3; Isaiah 14:24-27). He works all things together according to the counsel of His will for the purpose of glorifying Himself. Do we believe this? Can we rest in knowing that when things aren’t as we think they should be, God is at work in me to teach me to be content in Him? This is a fallen world. There will always be strife, income inequality, sickness, death, heartache, and abuses of power and authority by sinful men. We are fallen people in a fallen world. It is not God’s objective—believe it or not—to rid this world of all of these things. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden and humanity fell in sin, the arena in which mankind lives unto God changed. Because of sin, Adam would have to work by the sweat of his brow for the food he would eat. Likewise, because of sin in this fallen world, those who belong to God must learn to grow in holiness through adversity.

It is foolish to think that this fallen world will be anything but fallen until the new heaven and the new earth (Revelation 21:1-4). It is not our calling to make the world somehow un-fallen. It is our calling, however, to walk in the light of God’s truth in the midst of all that happens as a result of this being a fallen world. This fallen world is the arena in which God is saving His people in Christ and this is the arena in which the Holy Spirit of God indwells believers and teaches them to live godly lives of contentment in this fallen world to the glory of God (1 Timothy 6:6). We must learn to do all things as if unto the Lord without grumbling or complaining. Essentially, we are to learn to do all things without asserting our own will, but rather learning subjection to the Lord.

The creation is fallen as a result of sin and it groans for renewal (Romans 8:18-23), but God is sovereign and He is working all things together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). So, is it good that there are trials in this fallen world that miss our bullseye by varied degrees (James 1:2-3)? It is good because God is at work within the arena of this fallen world to teach His children to shine as lights of godly contentment in the midst of the darkness of the fallen world (Philippians 2:12-16a). This world is full of “bad” things—and it will always be—but it is a sovereign God who works these things we see as bad for the ultimate good—sanctification—of His people and for His glory. So when you feel like you can’t get no satisfaction, remember that it is not our aim to conform this fallen world to our will, it is to be always and repeatedly reminded that our only satisfaction is to be in the only sovereign Lord who works all things according to the counsel of His will in the midst of what is fallen (Ephesians 1:11-12) and we look forward with great anticipation to the day when His kingdom comes and His will is done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).

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