You probably don’t remember the day you were born, but everyone knows that babies enter into the world crying. Their first breath is a protest…an objection to entering this world. Unconsciously, they know they don’t belong here. They know that this world will fail to fully meet their greatest desires and needs.
“Wow, that’s a depressing and cynical thought.”
Ha, you’re not wrong… Sure, the birth of a child is a celebration, and we praise God for his grace in allowing us to experience the joy of these alien looking creatures with wrinkly skin and fuzzy hair. Yet, there is something profoundly wrong with our world. It is no longer the paradise it once was. To quote famed poet John Milton, it is a “paradise lost.” Soon after the baby is born, their cute and cuddly coos change to unrestrained tantrums when they don’t get what they want.
Let me ask you a few rhetorical questions to get us thinking about our desires and what those desires and their gratification (or lack thereof) say about our human existence. The goal is to reflect on our identity as protestors and pilgrims in a fallen world in order to shape our desires and ultimately our purpose.
Why do you think we always want what we don’t have? Then, when we receive what we wanted so desperately, why do we immediately want “the next best thing?” Are you single and desiring marriage? Ask any of your married friends if their deepest desires were quenched the moment they said “I do.”
Perhaps the reason we are never fully satisfied when we get what we want is because the desires of this world were never meant to provide lasting fulfillment. That they don’t provide lasting fulfillment should cause us to hearken back to our genesis. A genesis marked by objection. In some sense, our infancy is more honest than “enlightened” adulthood. At least as newborns we recognize and demur life in a fallen world. As adults, we do whatever we can to chase fleeting pleasures and desires, and at the mention of death or a “meaningless life,” we recoil. Like Ivan Illyich, we dwell only on our present existence because death forces us to confront the vanity of our earthly pursuits.
What would our lives look like if we embraced our pilgrim identity instead? An identity that recognizes it doesn’t belong on this earth. It is an identity that knows the most delectable pleasures of this life will never bring full satisfaction. An identity whose greatest fear is not death.
The submission to this identity will not be easy. The implicit consequence of not claiming this earth as home is that we will always feel like foreigners. We will always feel like we stick out. We will never feel settled. There’s a reason Jesus said that the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few (Matt. 7:14). Positively, it will change our priorities, and for those who are in Christ, it will ameliorate the sufferings of living life in a fallen world. It will also change our life’s purpose. Rather than live for the pleasures of this world, we will fix our eyes in hope upon the world that is to come and we will expend all of our energies helping others to do the same. Rather than assume that we are owed certain pleasures we will take pleasure in the grace that God has measured for us.
There is a vague sense in which this earth is home. After all, it was originally created by God for man and woman to enjoy. Yet, when sin entered into the world, the earth became corrupted. Thus, we cannot enjoy it as God intended. Perhaps the most salient paradox we experience as Christians is that our experience on earth is our only lived reality and yet it is not our ultimate reality. For those who are united to God through Christ Jesus, an eternity awaits us in which we will be united to God in perfect harmony on the new heavens and the new earth. All the wrongs on this earth will be made right in the new earth. All the muted joys we experience on this earth will be wholly realized in the new earth.
That’s why we protest. Our foreword of protest helps us look forward to the final day of rest. And dear friend, if you are not sure whether you will be found right before God on that final day, I beg you, relent. Admit that you are unable to save yourself. Admit that you are tired of seeking pleasure after pleasure only to realize that you are never satisfied. The wondrous reality of salvation in Jesus is that it is not based on anything you have done nor can do. The only requisite is that you admit you are incapable of contributing anything to your salvation and then trust in Christ. By God’s sovereign grace, your sins will be forgiven, your heart will be transformed, and your spirit will be renewed. When this life ends, your life with unadulterated fellowship and pleasure with God will begin.
To most humans, this earth is their only and ultimate reality. They must seek pleasure. They must leave a legacy. They must “live life to the fullest.” All because they cling to this earth as home and the only place and time where they can gratify their pleasures.
To the Christian, this earth is a temporal reality and all pleasures are simply a dim mirror reflecting the pleasures to come (1 Cor. 13:12; Rev. 21). The more we embrace this reality, the more we will “feel” like we don’t belong here. And trust me, our temptation when we experience this pilgrim identity will be to run back to the comfort of the pleasures of this world.
Don’t do it. Endure. You may feel afflicted, but you will not be crushed. You may feel perplexed, but you will not be driven to despair. You may be persecuted, but you will not be forsaken. You may be struck down, but you will not destroyed (2 Cor. 4:7-18).
Press on, weary pilgrim. Glory awaits you.
“Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done,” it suddenly occurred to him. “But how could that be, when I did everything properly?” he replied, and immediately dismissed from his mind this, the sole solution of all the riddles of life and death, as something quite impossible. – Ivan Illyich