The Problem of Dissatisfaction
1. In the 1830's Alexis de Tocqueville recorded his famous observations on America. One of the things he made note of was “a strange melancholy that haunts the inhabitants...in the midst of abundance” and he concluded that “the incomplete joys of this world will never satisfy [the human] heart.” (cited by Keller, Counterfeit Gods, p. x)
2. More recent American experience has only served to underline the fact that the strange dissatisfaction still haunts us – and maybe even worse.
a. Sometimes it has been illustrated by people’s comments about their own feelings. A musician and entertainer who has become something of an icon put it this way: “I have an iron will, and all of my will has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy....I push past one spell of it and discover myself as a special human being and then I get to another stage and think I’m mediocre and uninteresting....Again and again. My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me, pushing me. Because even though I’ve become Somebody, I still have to prove that I’m Somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.” (Keller, 72)
b. Sometimes the “strange melancholy” has been put on display in far more shocking ways. Timothy Keller opens his little book Counterfeit Gods by citing a string of a half dozen terrible suicides that followed the global economic crisis of 2008, all of them formerly wealthy and well-connected individuals – the very ones the world would have admired and envied a month earlier.
3. The problem of dissatisfaction may be obvious among us, but it didn’t start with us and it is not unique to us. It is one of most universal human problems.
a. In fact, it is the subject of the only prayer in Proverbs, the one in 30:7-9, our text.
b. The two things that are asked for here, and the setting in which the requests are made, point us in the direction of victory over the problem of dissatisfaction.
1. The setting in which the longing for satisfaction has to be faced.
a. Notice that our prayer begins, “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die...”
i. I’ve heard people refer to having “a bucket list” recently....this man is stating what is on his list.
ii. As he thinks of what he needs “before he dies,” his life is simplified considerably. Only two things matter to him!
iii. The first lesson for us to take away from his prayer is that the sources of satisfaction can only be examined in view of the reality that some night or day our souls are going to be required of us.
b. It is instructive that in the Wisdom Books the problem of dissatisfaction is so often discussed in this very setting.
i. Proverbs 30:15-16; 27:20
ii. Ecclesiastes 1:8
iii. Ecclesiastes 4:8; 5:10; 6:7
c. Here is the dose of reality all of us have to start with: anything which will be meaningless when that “one event that happens to us all” occurs cannot cure the problem of dissatisfaction in the meantime.
2. The first request: “remove far from me falsehood and lying.”
a. What is he asking for? At least these things:
i. He does not want to be found out to be a liar.
ii. Neither does he want to be lied about. He is asking that he not be the victim of untrue rumors or accusations.
iii. And neither does he want to end up having believed a lie.
b. Given its setting, why is this request so high on his list? Well, because unreality is not the answer to reality. Only what is true – real, genuine – can offer any satisfaction.
i. Scripture recognizes this throughout. Sincerity is necessary before the God who sees the heart.
ii. Honesty is necessary in relationships if there is to be any trust.
iii. Integrity is necessary within the person – his inner world has to match his outward conduct – and both have to fit the truth of God.
c. Psalm 86:11 – “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”
3. The second request: “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me.”
a. These are the words of a man who is realistic about the dangers posed by both abundance and want.
i. Riches, he says, might make him be full to the point that he would deny the Lord as the Giver of it all, and ignores him in his everyday life.
(1) He understood that having a lot of stuff can lead a person to forget that he will be taking none of it with him.
(2) Besides, identifying a man’s state with his estate “is a mirage that continually recedes; for the lust of acquisitiveness, once unleashed, becomes insatiable, and the appetite grows with eating.” (New Bible Commentary, 574)
(3) Prosperity can even become a source of dissatisfaction – because of the anxiety that arises from the uncertainty of wealth.
ii. On the other hand, he says, poverty might lead him to steal and thus to profane the name of God.
(1) Such an action would be acting as if God does not see, and as if he neither provides nor holds accountable.
(2) There is a difference between being poor but humbly grateful for what you have, and being caught up in the grinding poverty and despairing in the filth and hopelessness of it.
(3) There surely isn’t any satisfaction in not being able to trust in the God who provides, and in not being able to try to improve your lot in life, and in being desperate over making it through each day.
b. There are three great statements in the New Testament that are in keeping with the spirit of this last part of the wise man’s prayer – and that will help us move toward satisfaction where things are concerned.
i. Philipppians 4:11, 13
ii. 1 Timothy 6:6, 8
iii. Hebrews 13:5
1. When we are personally acquainted with the problem of dissatisfaction, maybe it can be to us what Keller calls “the opportunity of disenchantment.” He explains, “In the old stories, that meant that the spell cast by the evil sorcerer was broken and there was a chance to escape.” (xxiii)
2. The dissatisfaction is there because, as C. S. Lewis put it, we “do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things in this world that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise.” (Mere Christianity, Book III, chapter 10)
3. We are hungry for Christ, who said “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” We need to come to the Father by him.