Most of the things we desire will fail to fulfill us.
The author of Ecclesiastes comes to this shocking conclusion after examining what the world has to offer and exhausting its possibilities. Nothing, he finds, truly satisfies or sustains. Nothing lasts. Nothing fulfills our deepest longings. The author concludes,
The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
This life is to be lived for the LORD alone, with all else ordered in light of him. Eternal life, as John says, comes in knowing him (John 17:3), he who is worth the loss of all gain and the suffering of great pain (Philippians 3; 2 Corinthians 11-12).
On some level, we believe this. We know better than to place our hope in earthly comforts.
But on another level, we don’t.
Sure, we recognize the futility of the love of money, but we don’t always connect the dots to our own love of security and comfort. Sure, we see the problem with womanizers and adulterers, but we don’t always recognize our own idolatry of marriage and parenthood. Sure, we understand the dangers of getting lost in our careers, but we can’t help but think that if we could just find the right job, all would be well.
The reality is that most of us do believe that satisfaction and fulfillment can come through the things of this life, even if we hold to a doctrinal stance that disagrees with that belief. We affirm that “every good gift and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation and shadow due to change” (James 1:17), and we know that the Giver’s gifts are meant to draw our attention to him as the true good of our souls. Yet we still seek after gifts more than we seek the Giver, looking for the fulfillment of our desires in ways disconnected from the true source of life. We may know the truth, but we don’t often live according to it.
Disappointments can serve to refocus us, however. When we seek after a gift and can’t attain it or when we lose something we thought was necessary to our well being, we learn, painfully but certainly, that nothing here can serve as a sure foundation for our hope. We come to know the bitter truth that we simply don’t get whatever we want in this life, that gifts really can’t be gained apart from God’s giving. Those who have tried and failed to find a spouse or to have children feel this deeply, as do those who can’t seem to find a job, can’t seem to catch a break, can’t stop the world from moving faster. Jobs, families, friends, houses, publications, awards, titles, recognition, health – the list could keep going on to almost no end of things we look to fill us. And the absence of a gift, painful though it may be, serves to call our attention back to the Giver.
Thankfully, God uses disappointments to grow us, working them for good (Romans 8:28; James 1:2-4). We learn patience in the waiting, hope in the darkness, faith in the desert. We begin to understand that often the things we seek are secondary matters, the primary being the LORD himself. We see what we do have when we consider what we don’t, and we find, if we’re teachable, that God is enough for us apart from all else we may desire.
I confess I look to all manner of things to satisfy me, searching for fulfillment and security that I know is only found in the LORD. I admit that I’m still learning this lesson, and I suspect I’ll be learning it still when I take my final breaths. My flesh is weak, as is this easily distracted heart. So I pray, as I feel the aches of disappointment, to rest more fully in the Giver. I pray, as I long for temporary gifts, to love the eternal God more than these things. And I pray that my song would echo that of the psalmist who wrote,
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.