Thursday, June 18, 2009

Foundations for contentment

As part of my participation in an on-line reading of Jeremiah Burroughs' Puritan classic, The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, I've been doing a review of my notes from the study I led through that work last year. Some of my introductory information is not directly related to the reading, but foundational and, I think, helpful.

Because Burroughs was one of the Westminster divines, I think it appropriate to begin with a quote from the Westminster Catechism to gain some insight into our understanding of contentment:
“The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever”
Certainly we cannot expect to experience Christian contentment apart from fulfilling the purpose for which we were created. What does it mean to glorify God? And how can we enjoy Him? Well, among other things, it means to show forth His glory - as the moon shines back the reflected light of the sun, or a mirror reflects back the light and image of the one who gazes into it. We glorify God as we image him forth, as we look to Him and reflect back His own character.
“...God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Genesis 1: 26-28
In this passage we learn that we are somehow reflections of God's image, and the instructions He gave us bear that out. As God is a god of dominion, so when He created beings in His image, He gave them a share of dominion. As the being of ultimate authority, He gave them authority and the command to exercise it. As He had just accomplished creating beings in His own likeness, so He commanded mankind also to be fruitful and multiply, creating more beings in their own likeness. As God worked in the creation of our world, so He gave man work to do. And so as a son glorifies his father when he follows him into the family business, or as a little girl images forth her mother when she tries her best to help her in the kitchen, we glorify God and find our enjoyment in Him as we look to Him and His word and His ways to reflect His character in this world where He's placed us.

When Adam sinned mankind abandoned this purpose and all its potential for glorifying God and for enjoying Him. We've left it so far behind as to barely remember it. In fact, man is busy even today doing whatever he can think of to keep from remembering. But no matter what man does, he can not escape the nagging sense of futility in his life. Instead of seeking our joy in the reflection of God's eternal glory, we seek it in glorifying our finite little selves. Is it any wonder that mankind is grasping, dissatisfied and discontent? In this state, true, joyful, contentment is not even possible. Try what he may, if any man allows himself to think for very long, or maybe even if he doesn't, he will eventually arrive at the conclusion, "...all is vanity and striving after wind." Ecc. 2:17

So, you may wonder, why would God create a being with this purpose knowing he would utterly fail to accomplish it? The answer lies in the heart of God, and the Trinity, and His desire to reveal His character, and that of the individual members of the Godhead in a unique way in this creation. He wanted to reveal Himself as not only Almighty God, but as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - and He wanted to reveal His great love which enters into relationships fully aware of the suffering that such love will cause Him. He wanted to reveal His Son as the servant who suffers and sacrifices Himself for the joy of the reward; and even beyond that - as there is only one eternal and begotten Son of God, for some unfathomable reason, God wanted to create more sons in His image, with the character of Christ. He want to not only glorify Christ, but with Him, to bring many sons to share that same glory. (Heb. 2:1-11) THAT is what we are made for. God wants a whole host of children with His self-sacrificing character to elevate to the glory of Christ. That at least partially explains why the fall was part of God's plan. Part of what it is to be made in God's image will only be complete in Christ.

“But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” 2 Cor. 4: 3-6
So man, when he fell ceased live to glorify God (Rom. 3:23). He forfeited his true purpose in life and spends what existence his still possesses trying to justify his now meaningless existence by other means. And so we all go about our lives trying to justify ourselves through any number of behaviors, works, religions. (Romans 1:18...) Yet none of these things can replace what we've abandoned. And this at the heart of our discontent. We cannot justify our existence, no matter how we try. Our justification can only come in Christ in Whose face we can see the glory of God. In Him only is our existence justified. (Read Romans 8:3-8) And so it follows that true contentment can only be found in Him. He is the secret of contentment in all circumstances.

“Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:11-13

3 comments:

WhiteStone said...

Thank you, Laurie, you've written this one so clearly and true. Bless you.

David Porter (aka: Boomer in the Pew) said...

Laurie,

Well spoken, and true.

Betsy Markman said...

What awesome and vital truths you have presented here!