The Paradox of Contentment and “Not Yet”

All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. Hebrew 11:13

Someday I’ll overcome my penchant for self-destructive choices that seem to afflict me from time to time, like eating dessert for lunch and skipping out on any real food, or watching TV instead of exercising, or disengaging from an honest conversation out fear.  Someday I’ll make the right choice every time, but not yet.

Someday we’ll live in a world that’s more equitable and less consumeristic, where there won’t be so many billions living on less than two dollars a day, while the wealthiest minority consumes vast resources on extravagence instead of sharing our resources and helping those without experience a fuller and richer life.  Someday, but not yet.

Someday the environment will be restored, justice will be real, health will be vibrant, diseases will be cured, food will be glorious, and divisions will be ended.  Someday, but not yet.

One of the great challenges in our faith is that we’re called to embody now, in this present moment, some measure of the God’s future reign.  This is what makes us people of hope.  We are the light of the world according to Jesus, and as such it’s our calling to allow that light to shine.  But there are two gaps between light and darkness with which we must deal:

1. There’s the gap in my own life. Paul writes about in Romans 7 when he laments that his good intentions don’t consistently lead to good actions.  I want to live well, but don’t always do so.  This gap needs to lead to confession, not condemnation, which is why Paul follows his lament in Romans 7 with the promise of Romans 8 that there’s no condemnation for those who are in Christ.  When we fail, we shouldn’t lower the bar and make failure the norm.  Neither should we beat ourselves up and drop out of God’s story.  We simply confess and get on with it, realizing that we’re “not yet” whole.

2. There’s the gap between the way the world should be and the way the world is. If you click on the words “more equitable” above, you’ll discover that you’re wealthy.  You already know that all of us are part of an unsustainable system, whereby we, 5% of the world’s population, consume 25% of the world’s resources.  The inequities, pollution, genocide, human trafficking, AIDS crises, illiteracy, and tribal wars are collectively numbing, and it’s tempting to either live in a state of denial and apathy, or despair and rage, all the time.  Instead, we’re called to “abound in hope”  right in the midst of all this rubbish.

We can only find hope by recognizing the reality of trajectory.  We’re moving towards a just, healed future.  But we’re not there yet.  In the meantime, we’re invited to live as fully present in the midst of the mess.  This requires finding contentment, even though we’re nowhere near our destination of God’s good reign made fully visible.  Our contentment, ironically, comes from realizing that we’re not there yet, that we’re still travelling, that we are, as Hebrews says, “strangers”.  Cancer is foreign.  So is the insane poverty and pollution.  So are suicide bombers, and loneliness and infidelity.

With both the personal and collective gap between the now and the “not yet”, I find that contentment comes from my confidence in the trajectory.  I believe that God is changing me, and that God is going to change world.  Contentment also comes from celebrating the signs of hope that are all around us every day, functioning as foretastes of God’s future reign.  We see, we celebrate, and our hope abounds.

I’ll write about one of those signs of hope tomorrow… in the meantime, I pray that, right in the midst of our personal and collective failures, we will find the grace and faith to “abound in hope.”


About Richard Dahlstrom

As Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, Richard teaches with vision of "making the invisible God visible" by calling people to acts of service and blessing. It's working, as a wilderness ministry, homeless shelter, and community meals that serve those living on the margins are all pieces of Bethany's life. "We're being the presence of Christ" he says, "and inviting everyone to join the adventure." Many have, making Bethany one of the fastest growing churches in America in 2009 according to Outreach Magazine.

  • Natasha

    I really appreciate this post. Thank you.

  • Karli Hagstrom

    Thanks a lot for leading me to this post tonight, God. And thanks a lot for writing this, Richard.

    After going to see the documentary Living In Emergency today (following Doctors Without Borders), all I was left with was a feeling of absolute sadness and helplessness. I needed to be reminded of the hope we are thankfully able to live for on a daily basis, even when feeling overwhelmed by all the injustices.

    God is so good. Thanks again.

  • RawFaithRealWorld

    We really are strangers and pilgrims. It’s good to know that he will walk with us in the journey and continue to transform our lives. Last year I had a massive plumbing problem that cost thousands of dollars to fix. Right in the middle of being all bent out of shape about it, I heard from one of my former students who was in Cambodia working with orphans who lived and worked in a dump picking through the trash and medical waste and horrific things trying to find things they could sell to support themselves. It really put things back into perspective for me. Part of the journey for me has been learning to live more simply and free up more of my resources to make a difference in other people’s lives. I’m enjoying your blog. I ended up here via the monkey town blog.