In this recent interaction this particular person expressed that she once professed to be a Christian but had lost her faith since. She recently had gone through several difficult circumstances in life which she indicated contributed to her "losing her faith." She had been searching for contentment everywhere in light of her present circumstances. She looked to nutrition, exercise, food saving, chickens all indicating a move to the recent 'natural living' phenomenon. She recognized though that these things might not be able to fulfill her desire to find contentment.
What she has recognized is that she has a good and natural desire to seek fulfillment in life and that it cannot be found within herself. So the search for contentment ensues much like it did for St. Augustine. Truman reminds us:
"[Augustine] had sought to find satisfaction as a child in youthful pranks, in being part of a group, even in petty acts of theft. Later, he had sought satisfaction in training to be an orator. We might today say that that was the functional equivalent of a celebrity: he wanted to be famous and admired. Oratory also appealed because of its aesthetic qualities: he sought satisfaction in beauty. He sought satisfaction in sex. And he sought satisfaction in philosophy, in the quest for truth.
This search for satisfaction was for Augustine and is for this particular lady evidence that we need to find purpose, meaning and satisfaction outside of ourselves, beyond our individual existence. But it is here that we run into a paradox; the things of this world, if they bring any satisfaction at all, only bring it temporarily and fleetingly ultimately because they force the searching individual back inward. In trying to get outside ourselves by finding contentment in the things of this world we are ultimately driven back to ourselves. This is the nature of man's fallen condition. Instead of finding fulfillment in loving God we try to find alternate roads of satisfaction which all lead to the very destination we were trying to escape in the first place, self.
Nothing in the world can fulfill our need for ultimate satisfaction because nothing in the world is ultimate. All things in this world, including ourselves, perish. The number of our days will eventually reach their end. Because of that immovable truth how can their be ultimate satisfaction in this life? This caused Augustine to realize that what brings ultimate satisfaction, contentment and meaning to our short earthly existence must be something that not only lays beyond the self but that also transcends life itself.
Augustine's conversion to the Christian faith, after dabbling in other philosophies and worldly activities, finally gave him a framework to understand the world and to competently address the issue of the search for the satisfied life. It gave him the hope of finding ultimate satisfaction, not in this world but in the one that is to come. Augustine knew that life on this earth was temporal and thus any satisfaction experienced in this life would be temporal. He therefore concluded that ultimate satisfaction cannot be obtained in this life, but that there is a way of securing the hope of it beyond this life. Augustine would say that only God is to be enjoyed, everything else is to be used as a means to enjoy God (assuming that it can be used to enjoy God). Fundamental to fulfilling our need for ultimate satisfaction is our relationship with our our transcendent Creator. The tragedy of human existence is that in an attempt to fulfill our desire we replace that which brings with it the hope of ultimate satisfaction with that which can only bring fleeing pleasure. We deceive ourselves into thinking we have found what will ultimately fulfill us; we just haven't found enough of it.
What tragedy for those who, reaching the twilight of their lives, stand at the brink of the darkening abyss and woefully sigh
"Vanity of vanities! all is vanity... What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun."(Ecc. 1)
What comfort can be offered to those who are hurting? What hope is there to be found within the limits of the world? Those who are trapped within themselves can only bare tidings of evil and can proclaim no more than
"To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing." (Macbeth: Act 5, Scene 5)
If there is no hope of ultimate contentment, life itself becomes meaningless. It becomes worse than meaningless; it becomes absurd and evil. Fleeting satisfaction brings with it a fleeting picture of life. We may try to mix some color in with the mud but ultimately the picture turns out flat and not much different than anyone else's. Our somber songs all sound the same, their words, I imagine, saying something similar to this:
Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way.
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way.
Tired of lying in the sunshine staying home to watch the rain.
You are young and life is long and there is time to kill today.
And then one day you find ten years have got behind you.
No one told you when to run, you missed the starting gun.
So you run and you run to catch up with the sun but it's sinking
Racing around to come up behind you again.
The sun is the same in a relative way but you're older,
Shorter of breath and one day closer to death.
Every year is getting shorter never seem to find the time.
Plans that either come to naught or half a page of scribbled lines
Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way
The time is gone, the song is over,
Thought I'd something more to say. (Pink Floyd: Time)
In contrast, consider the words of the Apostle Paul who bares tidings of hope to the hurting:
Rom 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
Rom 8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
Rom 8:36 As it is written, "For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered."
Rom 8:37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Rom 8:38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,
Rom 8:39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Which of these views of life brings with it the hope of satisfying our need for fulfillment?