I just read something profound in John Eldredge’s book, Walking With God (one of my favorites of his; I’ve gone through it several times as a devotional):
There is no greater disaster for the human heart than to believe that we have found life apart from God.
Breathtaking. And true, I believe. John goes on to theorize that God allows all of us to live with some disappointment, some ache, some broken dream or unmet expectation precisely because He doesn’t want to expose us to the dangerous assumption that “we’ve got it made”; “we’re all good”; and “it doesn’t get any better than this.” I think that’s what Paul’s getting at in Romans 8 when he writes:
Romans 8:19-23 New International Version (NIV)
19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
Jeremiah rebuked the Old Testament Jews for trying to find life apart from God in “broken cisterns”:
Jeremiah 2:12-13 New International Version (NIV)
12 Be appalled at this, you heavens,
and shudder with great horror,”
declares the Lord.
13 “My people have committed two sins:
They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.
If I understand Jeremiah correctly, the “broken cisterns” can be any number of things that are ultimately gifts from God, inherently good but corrupted by us in trying to extract from them a fulfillment, a meaning, a life they were never meant to carry: think food, drink, sex, travel, adventure, leisure, any number of sensuous pleasures and comforts.
If I try to draw the Water of Life from any of these “cisterns”, the result will be disappointment, regret, anger, unfulfilment, loneliness, any number of maladies of the human heart. Why? Because the cisterns are broken. They can’t really hold the Living Water I need.
Who broke ’em? God did. That’s Paul’s point in the Romans 8 passage.
Why’d He break ’em? Because He’s kind. Because there’s no greater disaster for the human heart than this- to believe that we have found Life apart from Him.
Now there’s a potential minefield here. The temptation might be to become an ascetic- to reject all pleasure and comfort and earthly, under-the-sun delight as dangerous, seductive and destructive and therefore best avoided, foresworn.
But that misses the point by a mile, I think. It rejects one form of idolatry-hedonism- only to embrace another-sour ingratitude and self-abuse.
The real problem is not with pleasure- Satan didn’t create our tastebuds or olfactory nerves or our sexuality or our sense of melody, harmony and rhythm- but with the meaning and significance we attempt to assign them.
What if I begin to see all legitimate pleasures-the taste of a good steak, the softness of my lover’s kiss, the glory of Autumn in the Blue Ridge Mountains- not as conduits for ultimate fulfillment, but as reminders that I serve a good and kind and generous God who’s worthy of not only my worship and thanksgiving but also of my trust? So when the ache, the unmet longings return, I can remember that my ultimate hope is not here under the sun, but in eternity with Him.